Towns bracing for Hurricane Irene

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

With Hurricane Irene tearing towards Connecticut, local officials are preparing for potential flooding and power outages brought on by possible winds gusting up to 90 miles per hour.

“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.

Current forecasts from the Connecticut Department of Emergency Services and Public Protection put the first effects of Irene hitting the local area Saturday night and developing into a Category 1 hurricane around 5 p.m. Sunday. But, with the storm several days away, forecasts could still change.

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 everal 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 at noon today to go over plans with the Red Cross and National Weather Service.

Chatfield and Mayor Robert Mezzo both said they would be meeting with department heads tomorrow morning to go over plans.

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 call tomorrow and 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.

Naugatuck has no emergency shelters with generators, Mezzo said.

“I think it’s a sobering fact that most communities throughout the state, which could be impacted can not solve all the problems that tropical storms present,” Mezzo said.

Mezzo said individual preparedness is very important.

“If you loose power for any significant length of time, all residents are recommended to take appropriate action prior to the storm to be able to withstand that,” Mezzo said.

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.

A message was left for Beacon Hose Co. Fire Chief Michael Pratt and First Selectman Susan Cable seeking details of the town’s preparation plans. Check back for updates.

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.

CL&P offered the following tips to help prepare for the storm:

Prepare a storm kit and keep it handy.

It should include flashlights with spare batteries, a battery-operated radio or TV, first-aid kit and medications, canned, freeze-dried or dehydrated foods, a manual can opener, bottled water, baby or pet supplies (if needed).

Have a backup plan for life support equipment.

If you have life support equipment, you need a backup plan to cope with storm-related outages. That plan should include an alternate source of electric power such as a battery backup system, an uninterruptible power supply or a properly installed generator for the life support equipment, emergency telephone numbers (doctor, fire, police and ambulance), and a procedure to vacate your home during a prolonged outage.

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 the Governor’s Office website at ct.gov.