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Working During Hurricane: For Some It's a Job, For Others It's an Adventure

By Capital News Service
Thursday, Sept. 18, 2003

WASHINGTON - While many Marylanders hunkered down at home in advance of
Hurricane Isabel, many others spent at least some of Thursday at work in liquor stores, congressional offices and hospitals, among other businesses.

Some did it because they wanted to. Most did it because they had to.

For workers at Montgomery County-run liquor stores, business was brisk before Thursday's early close at 3 p.m. Like the standard storm essentials of milk, eggs, water and batteries, some folks seem to be stocking up on alcohol, too.

"We're rolling," said Brian Sullivan, manager of the county store in Leisure World liquor store in Silver Spring. "We're all lined up."

"I think they (customers) feel if they were to get stuck, they'd rather have a bottle of something rather than be home alone" with nothing to do, said Michael Henry, a clerk at the Westwood liquor store in Bethesda.

For those who didn't get out Thursday, the county stores are scheduled to reopen Friday at 2 p.m.

Business was brisk, too, at video stores around the state, with clerks reporting long lines and, to their surprise, patient customers. Kathy Scott, a Blockbuster manager in West Ocean City, said she could not remember a time when the store was busier.

"I think right now we have more people today than we did during the snowstorm," said Scott, referring to February's blizzard.

Nearly a half-hour before Jack Smithson opened the Blockbuster Video store in Olney, 20 people were outside waiting to get in.

"It's hectic beyond comparison. Forty percent of the inventory is gone by now," Smithson said early Thursday afternoon. "I expect 80 to 70 percent of our inventory to be gone by the end of the day."

For other workers, Thursday was just another day on the job -- albeit with a few extra precautions. At some post offices, for example, workers were allowed to come in one hour earlier than usual so that they could finish work earlier and try to get home ahead of the worst of the storm.

"I'm only concerned about my trip home later," said Lennie Jones, a postal supervisor in Prince George's County. "I think I have everything else I need at my disposal."

The post office in Pike has taken preventive measures, such as having plenty of water and power generators available, as well as a hotline number providing information about the hurricane.

"This is what we were supposed to do," said the postmaster, who declined to give her name.

Other people who didn't have to be at work Thursday were apparently taking a cue from the Postal Service and slogging ahead.

"Neither snow nor rain nor Isabel was going to stop us from having this hearing today," said David Marin, a spokesman for the House Committee on Government Reform. Even though the federal government was largely shut
down and Metro closed early, the committee went ahead with a scheduled
morning hearing on the Government Performance and Results Act, wrapping
up before noon.

"We have an ambitious hearing schedule this fall," Marin said.

The workload was the reason that Rep. Chris Van Hollen, D-Montgomery,
said he decided to risk a trip to the office Thursday, along with staffers who could make it in.

"I had a lot of work that had to get done," Van Hollen said, adding that with the Appropriations bill being considered, "we wanted to make sure we're looking out for our constituents at this time."

Aides to Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Baltimore, also said constituent service brought them to work in the face of a hurricane.

"The weather alert said the morning should be fine," said Devika Koppikar, Cummings' press secretary. "In continuing to serve our constituents, we came in."

Like many offices Thursday, Cummings's office closed at noon. For others, there was no going home early -- or going home at all.

Calvert Memorial Hospital in Prince Frederick brought in extra staff for the hurricane, and many of them planned to stay overnight Thursday so they would not have to fight their way back in Friday, said hospital spokeswoman Kasia Drozynski. She said staying overnight was not mandatory, but those who did so got extra compensation and had day care available for their children.

"We're working very hard to make sure everybody stays safe," Drozynski said. "The staff has really been pitching in."

Insurance agents were working yesterday, but most planned on heading home before the worst of Isabel struck the area.

"The plan is to close down at 2 o'clock," said Bill Conway, an Allstate agent who commutes from Columbia to Laurel for work. "When you're an insurance agent, the weather sort of makes you busier than normal."

Other agents planned to tough it out for as long as possible.

"When the weather gets really bad, then I'll leave. But I'm here to help the clients," said Regina Price, an Erie Insurance Group agent in Rockville.

For agents like Barbara Harders, of Erie Insurance Group in Silver Spring, the work is just beginning. She said Erie is bringing in "tons" of agents from Pennsylvania and has a mobile van, with generator backup, that will be the center of operations.

Help was not on the way for all workers. At 11 a.m., A.J. Perrin sat in the small control box on the drawbridge over Spa Creek in Annapolis, where he had been sitting since 8 a.m., waiting for a replacement that might not come if the Bay Bridge shut down too early.

Since no boats were expected to be out trying to pass the bridge, there was nothing for Perrin to do but sit and wait. He said he had been given no instructions other than to wait.

"I'm trying to get home before it starts," Perrin said. "I may need to stay here longer."

-- CNS reporters Jeremy Bond, Cheryl Johnston, Alex Meneses Miyashita,
Marisa Navarro, January Payne, Makeba Scott Hunter and Dan Wilcock
contributed to this story.

Copyright 2003 University of Maryland Philip Merrill College of Journalism

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