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Malloy activates emergency center

Hartford - Gov. Dannel P. Malloy Tuesday night signed an official declaration giving him the authority to close roads and take other emergency actions.

The governor ordered all nonessential state employees not report to work before noon today. He instructed workers to monitor the state emergency management website and local news reports to learn if the order changes.

Malloy signed a declaration of civil preparedness emergency. His communications director, Colleen Flanagan, said the new governor did not sign a state of emergency because the state wasn't in an emergency.

Malloy also activated the state's Emergency Operations Center as state officials braced for a potentially large winter storm expected to dump more than a foot of snow on Connecticut overnight and early today.

Malloy announced the opening of the emergency center, housed in the ground floor of the William A. O'Neill Armory in Hartford, after leading a conference call of about 250 people, including representatives of all 169 municipalities, electric utilities and business groups, and top officials of his administration.

Malloy said officials are preparing for a wide range of possible snowfalls, from 3 to 6 inches if the impending storm holds off the coast, to 15 to 20 inches if the storm is a direct hit. The highest estimate being considered by mid-afternoon was a whopping 28 inches, Malloy said.

Later in the day, the governor said at a second news briefing that his staff's weather models showed a potential snowfall of 15 to 20 inches. Malloy said he had discussed preparations for the storm, and possible cooperation with cleanup, with Govs. Deval Patrick of Massachusetts and Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island, and Mayor Michael Bloomberg of New York City.

"This is a serious potential incident, with the possibility of really great amounts of snow falling," the governor said.

Malloy, facing a possible emergency within his first week in office, strove to project an image of command and poise.

"I'm going to be living this storm," he said.

The state's efforts will be comprehensive, Malloy said, but he also urged residents to prepare for the worst and to stay off roads and highways as the snow begins falling Tuesday night and this morning.

Malloy asked community officials to clear snow lanes and thoroughfares in advance of the storm, and warned municipalities that line interstate highways that they could be called upon to help close highways in the event of a serious storm.

Malloy did not immediately declare a state of emergency or order nonessential state workers not to come to work today, though he did not rule out the possibility. Those decisions were to be made later in the evening, after he and his staff consult later weather forecasts.

The decisions confronting the state government will be different from those faced at the town level, the governor said, including whether to direct private businesses to remain closed or to shut down state highways if the worst-case scenario of a 20-inch snowfall arrives.

"It's a different set of circumstances closing schools than it is closing a state," Malloy said.

To residents, Malloy said simply: "Get prepared."

The state will field 632 snowplow crews, according to a spokesman for the Department of Emergency Management and Homeland Security.

Responding to a question about snow cleanup on Interstate 84 on Friday, when some motorists left their vehicles stranded, unable to move, the governor defended the state's earlier efforts.

"We're going to have people stranded, right?" Malloy said. "Because people do silly things, or get surprised by occurrences. So clearly… if you could plan to avoid being on our highway system between the hours of 2 a.m. and 2 o'clock (today), that would be a good thing. If you're not on the highway, I can guarantee you you won't be stranded on it."

The winter when Malloy first took over in Stamford, he said, was beset by heavy snowfall.

"It was the first time, I think, in 100 years that Stamford received over 100 inches of snow," Malloy said. "I hope this is not a trend for my first time in my new job, but I lived through that, and I understand that preparation and communication are very clear.

"But let's be very clear," he added. "If we get 20 inches of snow, it's going to be a mess. If we get 20 inches of snow, people are going to complain, they're going to be unhappy, they're going to have done things that made their lives more difficult, and even if they didn't, they're going to be more difficult. So let's do some preparation.

"I'm sure the stores are doing pretty good business right now. Milk, bread and popcorn."

t.mann@theday.com

Portions of an Associated Press story were used in this report.

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