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Southeastern Connecticut communities ready for tropical storm

As Tropical Storm Isaias moves up the eastern seaboard, southeastern Connecticut is under a tropical storm warning until further notice, according to the National Weather Service.

The storm is expected to make landfall as a minimal hurricane tonight in the northeast part of South Carolina. It is then expected to move north, mostly along Interstate 95, reaching New York City Tuesday evening and then making its way to the Connecticut coastline, according to Jay Engle, meteorologist in the weather service's New York City office.

On Tuesday, tropical storm conditions will develop by the afternoon, first with scattered showers and thunderstorms. Temperatures will be in the low 80s with high humidity as heavy rain and worsening conditions move in throughout the night, Engle said.

The region is expected to get a maximum of 1 to 2 inches of rain with wind gusts up to 73 mph, according to the weather service.

Gary Lessor, Western Connecticut State University meteorologist, said the region will see less rainfall than expected for a tropical storm.

While tropical storms usually bring heavy rainfall, most of the rain is going to be on the west side of this storm, which will hit New York State. He said he expects only about a quarter of an inch of rain to fall on New London.

As for wind, Lessor said residents should expect to experience a southerly or southeast wind, between 20 and 35 mph with gusts between 40 and 60.

The weather service's warning advised residents prepare for threats to life and property and take shelter during severe parts of the storm. Scattered power outages can be expected throughout the region, the weather service said. Lessor said he doesn't think there will be many in the New London area.

By late Tuesday night the storm will likely have moved through the area, allowing for sunshine and clear skies by Wednesday morning.

Area towns prepare  

In Groton, town employees on Monday made sure contractors secured anything that could blow around at the three school construction sites, checked that erosion control measures are in place, and went through operational checks of chainsaws and other equipment that might be needed for debris cleanup, said Greg Hanover, director of public works.

He said if necessary, Fitch High School would open up as a shelter with social distancing protocols in place, and once the shelter is closed, the high school would be cleaned through fogging. Hanover said the shelter might open if there's flooding around Groton Long Point or West Mystic but said that call is up to people working in emergency management.

In Stonington, the town plans to open its emergency operations center at the police station at noon on Tuesday. First Selectwoman Danielle Chesebrough said all police officers and public works department employees will be available to respond to issues created by the storm. The town has posted a storm preparation video on YouTube and instructions on its website

At local hospitals, emergency management officials are preparing for power outages.

Generators are charged and have been tested, and back up plans are in place at Lawrence + Memorial Hospital and Westerly Hospital, said Ron Kersey, manager of emergency services for both hospitals.

Staff are working hard to prepare for the storm, making sure the hospital grounds are safe and power is accessible so that they can provide for their current patients and residents who lose power and need medical care.

"Power outages are probably one of the biggest concerns; we prepare for that surge of individuals that need health care that don't have power at home," said Kersey. The hospitals are encouraging people who need shelter, but not emergency medical care, to go to their local shelter rather than a hospital.

For those who do need emergency medical care, ambulances are the safest way to get it, said Fiona Phelan, spokesperson for L+M. An important piece of advice, she said, is to call 911 if you're having a medical emergency - whether related to COVID-19 or the storm or otherwise - even if it's in the middle of the storm.

At the hospital, staff are also securing tents that have been set up outside for outdoor COVID-19 testing. Other than securing those areas, Kersey said, not much is being done differently than it would be if we weren't in a pandemic.

"Honestly, storm prep during COVID and not during COVID are basically the same," he said. "We know it's hurricane season, so we're ready."

East Lyme police Chief Mike Finkelstein, who is also the town's Emergency Management director, said Monday that he and other regional towns, as well as the Red Cross, have been preparing in recent days how to operate the area's regional disaster shelter at East Lyme Middle School, if it needs to open. 

The shelter, which is operated by the Red Cross, is open to East Lyme, Old Lyme, Waterford, Salem, New London and Montville residents affected by a severe power outages or by severe flooding, Finkelstein said. 

Finkelstein said the shelter is conducive to social distancing because classrooms can be used instead of mass sheltering people in the gym or cafeteria. He added meals can be served to residents in their shelter areas rather than having them congregate in a cafeteria. 

While he couldn't quite estimate how many people could shelter at the middle school with new social distancing rules, Finkelstein acknowledged capacity would be less than non-COVID times and that regional towns have backup plans to open additional shelters.

Rob Brule, first selectman for the town of Waterford, said public works trucks will be deployed on Tuesday in case it needs to remove debris from town roads. A reverse 911 call may be made by the town on Tuesday to provide information to residents, depending on the severity of the storm.

On Monday, a town employee was checking in with elderly residents who live alone to make sure they were safe ahead of the storm, Brule said.

Montville Mayor Ron McDaniel said the town wasn't doing anything "more than usual" to prepare for the storm in light of COVID-19.

New London officials could not be reached for comment Monday.

Norwich Public Utilities (NPU) General Manager Chris LaRose has taken several steps to prepare for customer emergencies or power outages.

Over the weekend and on Monday, NPU had all vehicles inspected and fueled, confirmed that adequate supplies of all necessary materials and equipment and assured appropriate staffing will be on hand for all critical functions. All internal communications and external equipment also was tested.

NPU has a contractor tree crew available on stand-by for potential downed trees and limbs.

If circumstances warrant, the Emergency Operations Centers at the NPU headquarters at 16 S. Golden St. can be activated in a modified, socially distant manner in under an hour.

City Manager John Salomone told the City Council Monday night city officials would decide Tuesday morning whether to open the EOC fully or partially. Salomone said he also might close City offices early to allow employees to drive home before the storm worsens.

The Norwich Community Development Corp. assisted city restaurants with taking down popup tents for outdoor dining Monday afternoon.

NPU's Customer Service Center will be closed to walk-in visitors, but NPU customer service representatives will be available at (860) 887-2555.

NPU is also reminding the public that any downed utility wire should be assumed to be energized and a potentially lethal hazard. Report any downed wires to 911 immediately. Should there be widescale power outages over the next two days, NPU will provide regular updates to the media and on its Facebook page.

Gov. Ned Lamont said Monday that the Connecticut Emergency Operations Center - as been activated since March in response to the global COVID-19 pandemic -would remain activated to monitor and manage the storm and its impact on the state.



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