Malloy says Irene could be worst storm in decades

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy today again urged Connecticut residents to prepare for the increasingly likely arrival of Hurricane Irene early Sunday, which could produce "circumstances unlike any (CT residents) have experienced before."

Anyone living in flood prone areas should plan to evacuate well before the outer edges of the storm hit Connecticut, sometime between midnight Saturday night and Sunday morning. He also urged people to seek shelter and be off the roads by midnight Saturday night. Motorists should assume the Merritt Parkway and Wilbur Cross Parkway will be closed by midnight as well.

Speaking from the briefing room of the Emergency Operations Center in the state Armory, Malloy said that as of midday today, there appears to be a "75 percent" likelihood that Connecticut will face "the full brunt" of a Category 1 or Category 2 hurricane with a potential to wreak significant damage.

Emergency officials are prepared to order additional evacuations if necessary, including evacuations of coastal urban areas between Greenwich and New Haven, where the hurricane is forecast to hit Sunday morning. Those orders could be issued Saturday afternoon and would include details of where people should go.

Malloy said the state is preparing for the potential loss of electrical services throughout Connecticut for a period of days or even weeks. The Connecticut National Guard is ready to mobilize for post-hurricane cleanup.

Earlier today, the governor said Hurricane Irene could be the most "serious climate event" to happen to the state since the New England Hurricane of 1938, which is considered the worst natural disaster in modern Connecticut history.

Malloy also urged residents to take the storm seriously and begin making preparations now.

"I hope people are listening better to me than they did about removing snow from their roofs," he said.

As local officials and residents kept an eye on the path of Hurricane Irene, Malloy on Thursday declared a state of emergency in anticipation of the fierce winds and heavy rains the storm could bring this weekend.

The emergency declaration gives the governor the power to order evacuations, control roadways and call civil preparedness forces into action.

"I simply urge all Connecticut citizens to now take some time over the coming day and a half or so to be prepared for this emergency," Malloy said in a live announcement from the briefing room of the Emergency Operations Center in the state Armory.

The governor advised residents to stock up on flashlights and batteries and to store enough water to last for three days. He also asked people to remove patio furniture and anything else that could get swept up in high winds and become a projectile.

"If I lived in a low-lying area that has ever been evacuated before, I would currently assume that at some point you're going to receive an order of evacuation," he said.

Malloy said the hurricane appears to be moving slowly, which means lots of rain and a heightened danger of flooding once it hits land. Ten or more inches of rain is forecast for Connecticut, with 6 to 7 inches falling over a short period of time.

"All hands are on deck," the governor said.

Town emergency management directors ordered sand and sandbags, put warning notices and storm preparedness tips on their websites and made arrangements to open emergency shelters.

The eye is expected to hit in western Connecticut, but Meteorologist Bill Jacquemin of the Weather Center at Western Connecticut State University said Connecticut is relatively small, so the coastal impacts could be major regardless of the exact track the storm takes. Winds are generally stronger in the eastern half of the hurricane, with the forward force of the storm combining with the counter-clockwise circulation.

Several high tides will come during the hurricane's duration, and these will be astronomically high tides.

Northeast Utilities has line crews ready in advance of the storm and standby crews for cleanup afterward. But residents who lose power are asked to be patient.

"The number one priority will be road clearing followed by power restoration," Boynton said.

Connecticut Light & Power announced Thursday it has canceled staff vacations, put employees on standby, and is preparing for storm outages that could last a week or more in some areas.

"We plan for the worst and hope for the best," said Jeff Butler, president and chief operating officer.

Lawrence & Memorial Hospital in New London and the William W. Backus Hospital in Norwich put their incident operation plans in place for employees and patients. Hospital staff checked pharmaceutical supplies, food stores and general supplies to cover the storm period.

L&M spokeswoman Alina Schwartzman said additional paramedic staff has been scheduled to work during the hours the hurricane is expected to hit.

"We've tested all the generators and topped off the fuel supply," she said. "We've ensured that we have adequate food and water for the staff and patients."

Backus spokesman Keith Fontaine said surgeons also were working with patients to postpone some elective surgeries scheduled for Monday.

Hauling boats

Local boaters started preparing for the hurricane by Wednesday.

Westerly Town Manager Steve Hartford announced Wednesday evening that the town Emergency Management Department has opened Cimalore Field located Wilson Street for residents to store boats on trailers and RVs.

At Boats Inc. marina in Niantic, general manger Don MacKenzie said by lunchtime Thursday about 60 people had called with requests to take their boats out of the water.

"I expect that number to be close to 100 by the end of the day," MacKenzie said.

MacKenzie said that 20 employees have been working non-stop to haul boats out of their slips.

"We'll keep on going until it's not safe for our guys," MacKenzie said. "A boat is just a piece of fiberglass."

MacKenzie said he spent the morning helping a friend move his boat from Old Saybrook to the Niantic River.

"There were 5- to 6-foot waves out by the Connecticut River," MacKenzie said. "That's not typical for the Sound. You could tell that something was amiss."

Michael Alfultis, campus director at the University of Connecticut's Avery Point in Groton, said the marine sciences' department's research vessels, the RV Connecticut and the RV Weicker, were in the Gulf of Maine on Thursday but have been recalled, he said. They are expected to return today and be docked at a safe harbor such as Mystic Seaport through the hurricane.

The Project Oceanology vessel, which is also kept at the Avery Point docks, was moved to the Mystic River Thursday, causing a cruise planned for UConn students to be canceled.

All the small boats and sailboats on campus are being moved onto shore, Alfultis said.

"One of our big concerns is the basement of the marine sciences building," he said. The basement area, which has labs for undersea robotics equipment and experiments and a machine shop, could be vulnerable to flooding if there is a storm surge, Alfultis said. The Rankin lab building is also vulnerable, he said. Both buildings are just 12 feet above flood level, "so we'll be monitoring the storm surge very carefully."

Flooding a concern

Municipal officials will be keeping an eye on areas known for flooding.

Stonington First Selectman Ed Haberek said the town has an interactive map on its web site to show flood-prone areas.

Reid Burdick, New London's Emergency Management Director, said potential trouble spots are Green's Harbor Beach and beaches along Pequot Avenue. Unfortunately, he said, these are also popular spots for people to go watch the storms.

The hurricane could bring several inches of heavy rain to a region recently saturated with rain, meaning likely street flooding, basement flooding and a strong potential for uprooted trees, especially with hurricane force winds.

"Check your drains," Burdick urged. "When was the last time you checked your drains?"

In Griswold, they're filling 4,000 sandbags and preparing for the worst.

First Selectman Philip Anthony Jr. said the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection lowered the water levels Thursday in four Griswold waterways: Pachaug, Ashland, Hopeville and Glasgow Ponds.

"We had it lowered based on the March 2010 flood, when those ponds breached a certain level and waterfront properties were flooded," Anthony said.

Anthony said "lessons have been learned" after last year's flooding. He encouraged residents to stock up on fresh water and food, and to test flashlights and generators before the storm hits.

Norwich might be located inland from the coast, but the city has infamous flooding conditions, especially along the Yantic River and its tributary streams. Norwich Emergency Management Director Gene Arters will issue voluntary evacuation requests to mobile home parks and areas prone to flooding. He warned that during the storm, emergency crews might not be able to reach residents quickly.

"The forecast calls for 10 inches of rain for this area, which is catastrophic," Arters said. "It would produce flooding we have not seen since the 1955 flood."

c.bessette@theday.com

Schools

Groton public schools staff will report on Tuesday, rather than Monday, and pre-k and K will be pushed back a day from Sept. 6 to Sept. 7.
Montville public schools will postpone the opening day of school from Monday to Tuesday
Connecticut College's arrival day for new students, previously scheduled for Saturday, will be delayed until Thursday. Returning students, previously scheduled to arrive on Tuesday or Wednesday, will be delayed to Saturday or Sunday, Sept. 3 or 4.
The first day of classes, originally scheduled for Thursday, is now Monday, Sept. 5. The College's Centennial Convocation, an annual event that celebrates the beginning of the new academic year, is scheduled for Tuesday, Sept. 6.
Mitchell College's check-in/orientation programs will go on as scheduled today. Convocation will be held today, as scheduled, at 3 p.m.
The college will be closed Monday. All other returning resident students should arrive on Wednesday.
The first day of classes has been postponed until Thursday.

Shelters
Towns will open shelters if needed.
Colchester. Bacon Academy, 611 Norwich Ave.
East Lyme Community Center, Society Road, and East Lyme Middle School
Griswold Fire Department, 883 Voluntown Road
Montville High School
New London Senior Center, 120 Broad St.
Lyme/Old Lyme Middle School and Center School
Norwich's Rose City Senior Center, 8 Mahan Drive, Norwich (for special needs residents)
Kelly Middle School on Mahan Drive or Teachers Memorial Middle School on Teachers Drive, Norwich

More information
The state has set up a website for residents to track the storm and the state's preparations: www.ct.gov/irene

United Way's disaster preparedness site: http://www.211ct.org/InformationLibrary/Documents/EmergencyPreparedness.asp

Norwich Public Utilities customers should call the utility to report power outages at the main number, (860) 887-2555, but a separate number has been created to report natural gas emergencies only: (860) 887-7207.

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What are you doing to prepare for Hurricane Irene?

Stocking up on water and non-perishable foods

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Boarding up windows

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Nothing, I'm not worried about this storm

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