Guard troops mobilized, public transit suspended as Irene threatens region

Note: Front page story

By Brenda Maguire
Correspondent

The state mobilized National Guard troops Friday and Gov. Dannel Malloy urged residents to finish storm preparations as Hurricane Irene threatened to become the first hurricane to make a direct hit on the state in 20 years.

The storm was forecast to make landfall in New England on Sunday, although the first bands of rain could lash the region beginning Saturday. Officials warned it was likely to cause prolonged power outages and flooding in low-lying areas along the shoreline.

“This is perhaps the most serious climate event in state history since 1938,” said Malloy, making reference to that year’s unnamed hurricane that brought 17-foot storm surges and caused 600 deaths.

“We’re doing our planning checks on our vehicles to make sure they’re ready as well as checking chainsaws and propane,” said Lt. Commander John Whitford, public affairs director for the Connecticut National Guard.

The Guard will be positioning vehicles along the path the hurricane is expected to take. The Guard plans to have 200 soldiers on duty, but it could add as many as 500 more by Monday, Whitford said.

“Missions we could be doing go from debris clearance to evacuations to high-water rescue,” said Whitford. “We’ll have the personnel and equipment in place for whatever mission it might be.”

Late Friday afternoon, Malloy suspended bus and train service throughout the state as of 8 p.m. tonight through Sunday.

That includes CTTRANSIT bus and paratransit operations in Bristol, New Britain, Hartford, New Haven, Stamford, Meriden, Waterbury and Wallingford. In addition, MetroNorth service was suspended as of noon today and Shoreline East operation will be suspended at 8 p.m. tonight.

Bristol police will have extra staff on Sunday and are preparing an Emergency Operations Center for Sunday.

“We’re facing mostly down power lines, which creates danger on the street, and power outages in general,” police Lt. Edward Spyros said.

State Police will be doubling staff in some areas.

“We’re taking this very seriously, this could wreak havoc on Connecticut,” Lt. J. Paul Vance said. State Police are deploying boats, four-wheel drive vehicles, off-road vehicles and generators.

Malloy, who declared a state of emergency Thursday in advance of the storm, urged anyone living in areas that have flooded in the past to seek shelter elsewhere.

Mayor Adam Salina issued an emergency declaration for the town of Berlin, which will be opening a shelter at Catherine McGee Middle School at noon today.

Plymouth Mayor Vincent Festa also issued a state of emergency on Friday. Storm assistance information will be posted on cable television channels 16 and 21 and at http://www.plymouthct.us/.

Southington is opening its emergency operations center on Sunday. It will likely open at 10 a.m., however, the time is subject to change. Southington will be using its website, http://www.southington.org, to communicate emergency information to the public.

The following Southington town roads will be closed Saturday at 5 p.m. because of past history of flooding: Curtiss Street between North Main Street and Hart Street, and Mill Street between North Main Street and Water Street.

Vance urged residents to prepare for the storm, “We’re asking people to not leave it to the last minute and to take it seriously.”

The state Department of Emergency Services and Public Protection released a list of what should be done to prepare for the storm:

  • Have one gallon of water per day, per person in a household,
  • A three-day supply of nonperishable food,
  • A battery-powered or hand-crank radio and a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) weather radio,
  • Extra batteries, flashlights, a first-aid kit,
  • A wrench or pliers to turn off utilities,
  • A cell phone with chargers,
  • A full tank of gas.

Vance also suggested going to the bank to get cash in case ATMs are down and stocking up on medication.

Rob Viveiros, assistant manager of the Home Depot in Berlin, said employees are stocking extra flashlights, batteries, rain coats and generators, which were all selling briskly Friday.

“We’re very prepared compared to other retailers,” Viveiros said.

Grocery stores have the same mind set for preparing their customers for the storm.

“We closely monitor weather to make sure our stores are fully stocked with supplies needed before a big storm,” ShopRite spokesperson Santina Stankevich said.

Connecticut Light & Power released guidelines for safe use of new generators during the hurricane. These include never using a generator indoors, never connecting a generator directly to a home’s wiring, and turning off all equipment powered by the generator before shutting down the generator.

Although it’s best to stay indoors during Hurricane Irene, some people may not have a choice. Jacklyn Tobin, spokesperson for AAA, advises to be cautious of power lines or tree limbs in the road.

“It’s really important to observe any road closure signs and not drive through those areas,” she said. “Make sure your wipers and headlights are being utilized and reduce speed.”

She also said to keep a safe distance from larger trucks because they are affected more by high winds. If a power line falls on the car while driving, don’t try to move it. Stay in the car until help comes. She also warned against attempting to drive through standing water.

New Britain students will get one more day of summer because of Irene. School has been cancelled for Monday, which was meant to be their first day.

“Safety is always our first concern and it’s still undecided, but the potential of 50 mph winds lends itself to tree limbs and wires down. We figured it would be a better idea to not have students in harm’s way,” said Paul Salina, assistant to the superintendent.

School parking lots in the New Britain district will be open to any vehicles to help keep the streets clear. In fact, New Britain residents will be allowed to park their vehicles for free in public parking areas and city garages as of 4 p.m. today. City officials are asking that residents utilize the free lots to help public safety and emergency crews respond more efficiently to downed wires and damage.

School administrators in Southington will make a decision today as to whether the first day of school will still be held Monday. The school district will provide an auto-call message to parents to inform them of the decision.

The Plymouth School District announced Friday before the school day let out that classes will not be held Monday.

On Friday, U.S. Rep. Chris Murphy and U.S. Small Business Administration New England Regional Administrator Jeanne Hulit held a news conference to discuss how small businesses can prepare for the hurricane.

Hulit emphasized that all businesses must make sure they back up their financial records so that they are able to properly apply for loans.

SBA offers low-interest loans to businesses, homeowners and renters following disasters. These loans include Home and Personal Property Loans, Business Physical Disaster Loans, and Economic Injury Disaster Loans.

“Our teams are set up to take loan applications and rebuild financial records if needed,” Hulit said. “Loans do need to be repaid and there are no grants for businesses.”

More information on SBA loans can be found at http://www.SBA.gov/disasters.

Residents can stay updated on the storm by going to http://www.ctalert.gov and signing up for the CT Alert. More tips for staying safe during the hurricane can be found at http://www.ct.gov/demhs or http://www.ready.gov.

— The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Many local hotels will be assisting the Connecticut Lodging Association by providing accommodations in case of mandatory evacuations.

This includes the Berlin Motor Inn, Coronet Motel, Days Inn Berlin, Kenilworth Motel, Petersons Motel and Twin Spruce Motel in Berlin.

The Clarion Hotel of Bristol and the Grantmoor Motor Lodge, Siesta Motel and White Swan Motel in Newington are also providing shelter if needed.

The full list can be found at http://www.rexdevelopment.org. Some of the hotels provided may be flooded or without power, so guests are encouraged to call ahead of time.

A few shelters had already been established Friday in preparation for Irene’s arrival.

The town of Berlin is scheduled to open a shelter at Catherine McGee Middle School at 899 Norton Road at noon today.

New Britain officials will open the Senior Center at 55 Pearl St. and then the Police Athletic League building at 544 Osgood Ave. if widespread power outages occur.

An emergency shelter will be open today at 6 p.m. at Eli Terry Jr. Middle School, 21 North Main St., Terryville. Anyone in need of transportation there should call the Plymouth Police Department at (860) 585-4017.

Wethersfield officials will be opening an Emergency Operations Center in advance of the storm, and open a shelter at the Pitkin Community Center for those residents with special needs if the storm affects their primary residence. It wasn’t clear Friday when the shelter will open. Residents can check the town website at http://www.Wethersfieldct.com, the Town Community Scroller on Cox Channel 117-173 or ATT Uverse Channel 99 for more information. Residents will be able to call the Emergency Operations Center at (860) 563-6658 after it has been opened. People can also call the Wethersfield police nonemergency line at (860) 721-2900.

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