Bracing for Hurricane Irene

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Local and state officials are bracing for Hurricane Irene, which is expected to slam Connecticut Sunday with heavy rain and wind. NATIONAL OCEANIC ATMOSPHERIC ADMINISTRATION

Hurricane Irene is continuing its torrid path towards Connecticut.

According to the Connecticut Department of Emergency Services and Public Protection as of 11 a.m. today, the National Hurricane Center forecast that Irene will remain a Category II hurricane today and remain a Category II hurricane until the storm passes over the outer banks of Cape Hatteras, N.C. around 11 a.m. Saturday morning.

Irene is then forecast to move up along the immediate east coast and arrive in the Norwalk area around 10 a.m. Sunday morning as a Category I hurricane. The first effects from Irene are expected to begin Saturday afternoon with light rain which is expected to become heavy at times by midnight. Heavy rain is expected to continue from midnight on Saturday through the passage of the center of Irene Sunday morning, especially in western Connecticut.

According to the department, tropical storm force winds are expected to enter the state around midnight Saturday night and hurricane force winds are expected just after daybreak on Sunday.

In anticipation of the storm, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy signed an emergency declaration Thursday that grants him powers to protect life and property.

His emergency powers include ordering evacuations, making provisions for evacuees, and ordering civil preparedness forces into action. Additionally, the governor may modify or suspend state laws, regulations and other requirements

State officials are advising municipalities to prepare for evacuation and clear stormwater drains and streams. Malloy said he has directed the Military Department and the state police to prepare. Malloy said people in Connecticut know their surroundings and how they fare in bad weather, and he urged people to use common sense.

On Saturday, Malloy is scheduled to hold three news briefings at 10 a.m., 4 p.m., and 9 p.m. to address the state.

For updates on the state’s emergency efforts visit ct.gov/irene.

Forecasts indicate as much as 10 inches of rain will fall, and forecasters advised Malloy that between 6 and 7 inches of rain could fall in as little as a six-hour stretch.

With heavy rains and wind in the forecast, local officials are preparing for potential flooding and power outages.

“Our big enemy here is going to be the wind,” said Prospect Mayor Robert Chatfield, who added heavy winds could bring down trees and take power lines with them.

Naugatuck Fire Chief Ken Hanks warned residents to prepare for possible power outages of three to five days.

In 1985, Hurricane Gloria took out power in town for a week, Hanks said. With similar problems across the state, it may take a long time to get power back on-line, he said.

Hanks said trees could come down quickly because roots are not secure in the already wet ground and leaves will offer more wind resistance. He said areas that usually get flooded will probably flood even more this time around following several storms this summer that have dumped three to four inches of rain.

“They’re looking at doubling or tripling that amount,” Hanks said.

Officials from area towns said they doing their best to prepare for the storm.

Mayors and emergency personnel from every town in Connecticut held a state-wide conference call yesterday to go over plans with the Red Cross and National Weather Service.

Chatfield said Prospect has already scheduled more police officers per shift during the storm and is working on getting more coverage from Public Works. He said it is likely that firefighters will sleep over at the firehouse Saturday and Sunday night and Campion Ambulance will have an ambulance stationed at the fire house. The ambulance service usually responds to emergencies in Prospect from Waterbury.

Chatfield said he would issue a CODE RED system throughout the storm to keep residents updated on what is going on.

If needed, the firehouse and senior center can be used for emergency shelters, Chatfield said.

Borough officials met this morning to discuss preparations for Hurricane Irene.

Naugatuck Mayor Robert Mezzo posted on his blog that the borough does not have facilities with back-up power supplies to shelter large numbers of residents. The best practice is “shelter-at-home” unless there is a true emergency situation. Individual evacuations will be made on a case-by-case basis in life-threatening situations by trained emergency management personnel, Mezzo stated.

Mezzo stated that residents who use life support devices that require electricity may call 911 during power outages if emergency power is needed. Limited space is available at various locations throughout the Borough and decisions and placements will be made by trained emergency management personnel on a case-by-case basis.

Severe flooding is extremely likely regardless of the ultimate direction Irene takes, Mezzo stated. He posted that while Department of Public Works crews are taking all precautionary measures to lessen the impact of flooding, there will be no way to prevent flooding if we receive the amounts of rain predicted. Limited sand bags are available at the Department of Public Works and will be rationed at the discretion of the borough, Mezzo stated.

Residents who have the means to purchase bags privately may fill limited amounts of bags from the available sand at the Recycling Center during regular Saturday hours, 8 a.m. to 2 p.m., again at the discretion of the borough.

The borough will activate its Emergency Operations Center from the Naugatuck Police Department beginning on Sunday at 10 a.m., Mezzo posted. A state of emergency will be declared effective on Saturday at noon. Such a declaration allows the borough the authority to procure any necessary contractors outside the regular bidding process to respond effectively to storm-related issues, Mezzo said. Other powers allowed to the mayor by the declaration would be implemented on an as-needed basis.

At the time Irene reaches the borough in full impact, it may be impossible for the borough to respond to all but life-threatening situations, Mezzo said. Emergency management recommendations urge municipalities not to place public safety and public works personnel in wind conditions that exceed 70 miles per hour. Residents are urged to contact 911 only for true, life-threatening emergencies.

Mezzo will post additional updates on his blog, www.bobmezzo.com, as they become available.

Chatfield urged residents to fill buckets of water to flush the toilet in case power goes out.

Hanks advised residents to make sure their generators are properly installed and advised using flashlights instead of candles if the power goes out.

Hanks also advised residents not to walk through water if the streets flood because obstacles may be obscured and people could fall in uncovered manholes. He said the current on flooded streets can have a lot of force.

“People tend to underestimate running water unless they’ve dealt with it,” Hanks said.

In Beacon Falls, firefighters are filling some sandbags and have loaded up one of their trailers with the necessary equipment and supplies to set up a shelter, including cots, water, and blankets, according to EMS Director Jeremy Rodorigo.

“We’re as prepared as we can be. We’re not taking it lightly. We just hope that whatever the needs are we can respond to and we hope nobody get hurt,” Rodorigo said.

He said, depending on need, the town could open a shelter at the senior center, high school, or elementary school.

“All of our firefighters and EMS folks are planning on being all hands on deck on Sunday,” Rodorigo said.

He said they have stacked supplies and provisions for members in case of an extended stay at firehouse and made sure all generators, pumps, and other equipment are running and fueled up.

“We’re staying in continuous contact with the state Office of Emergency Management,” Rodorigo said. “We’re all glued to the TV.”

Town emergency services will be on-call throughout the storm, according to Beacon Fall’s website.

More information will be announced through town news emails, which residents can sign up for at www.beaconfalls-ct.org, and through the Code Red Emergency System.

According to a press release from CL&P, the electric company is preparing for the hurricane and coordinating with its sister companies in Massachusetts and New Hampshire to secure additional line crews and tree crews to expedite restoration. Residents can report power outages by calling CL&P at (800) 286-2000.

CL&P has been in contact with local towns to coordinate emergency management efforts, according to the press release and local officials.

If the forecast holds true, Hurricane Irene won’t be the first to hit Connecticut.

According to the Connecticut State Library, six hurricanes have hit the state since 1938, and in 1991 Hurricane Bob whacked Rhode Island but caused significant damage here and killed six people. Hurricane Gloria interrupted business and closed the University of Connecticut for a week in 1985.

A pair of hurricanes, Connie and Diane, hit the state five days apart in August 1955 sparking the Flood of 1955, one of Connecticut’s greatest natural disasters. According to the state library, that flood left 103 people either dead or missing and presumed dead, 86,000 people unemployed, and more than 1,100 families homeless.

For updates on the storm’s progress and the state’s preparation for Hurricane Irene visit ct.gov.

Residents can also call 211 for assistance and up-to-date information about places to take shelter in the event of power outages, and evacuation routes.