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State, local officials urge residents to plan for Irene

August 26, 2011

NEAL P. GOSWAMI

Staff Writer

BENNINGTON — State and local officials are warning residents to prepare for Hurricane Irene as it barrels north along the East coast, potentially bringing damaging rain and wind to the state.

The storm is expected to reach Vermont on Sunday, according to officials.

“Although we hope the storm weakens and moves offshore, Vermonters need to prepare for the possibility that Hurricane Irene hits our state,” said Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin.

Shumlin, vacationing in Canada, was consulting by phone Thursday with the Federal Emergency Management Agency and Vermont Emergency Management, according to spokeswoman Susan Allen.

She said state officials are tracking the storm and preparing to respond to emergencies. Current models have the storm crossing into Vermont overnight Sunday into Monday as a tropical storm. That means the storm would have sustained winds between 39 and 73 mph, she said.

“We’re going to prepare for that scenario and hope for the better,” Allen said.

Shumlin is planning to return to the state today as previously scheduled.

Administration officials are checking in with utilities, hospitals and state government agencies to ensure they are prepared, Allen said. The Agency of Transportation is developing a contingency plan in case roads are damaged by floods. And the Department of Agriculture, Food and Markets is preparing plans in case the farming community is impacted, Allen said.

“We hope none of this comes to pass, but we’ll be prepared,” she said.

Additionally, state officials are drafting the necessary paperwork to call up the Vermont National Guard if necessary, according to Allen.

Bennington Police Chief and Public Safety Director Paul Doucette urged local residents to heed warnings of flooding and heavy winds.

“At this point, we’re taking it seriously enough where we’re saying that this is going to be a direct impact on our area,” Doucette said. “If you look at the computer models, a lot of them are very consistent and the storm is going to hit us.”

Doucette said the storm could deliver up to 6 inches of rain on Southwestern Vermont, causing waterways to flood. The strong winds are likely to bring down trees and power lines, too, he said.

“Obviously trees are going to come down. We’re going to have significant power outages,” Doucette said. “We have not had a storm of this severity in a long time and it’s important that residents take it seriously.”

“A storm of this magnitude could potentially knock power out to this area for days,” he added.

Central Vermont Public Service spokeswoman Christine Rivers said the electrical utility is lining up emergency crews and seeking additional line crews from out-of-state to respond to power outages. Still, Vermonters should be prepared to be without power for several days, she said.

Doucette said people should make sure that essential supplies are on hand in their homes that will last for several days.

“I would recommend that people go to the Vermont Emergency Management website in the next couple of days and take a look at what they should have available in their homes,” he said. “Without a doubt, I would strongly encourage people to go to the grocery store and get the extra supplies that they may need for a few days.”

Doucette said people should not call 911 or police dispatchers to ask when the power will be back. Such calls tie up emergency lines and could slow the response to real emergencies, he said.

“We don’t have the answers for those questions. It really doesn’t make sense to tie up the phone lines for people asking those types of questions. We would just ask that people be patient,” he said.

Meanwhile, Vermont Emergency Management asked residents to do the following:

  • Clear yards of toys, lawn furniture and other objects that could become dangerous if blown around in high winds.
  • Stock up on water, non-perishable food and other supplies to be able to shelter at home for up to three days.
  • Prepare for power outages by stockpiling flashlights and fresh batteries and a battery powered radio. Make sure generators are professionally installed and can be operated without causing a carbon monoxide hazard. Report outages to the electric utility. Be sure to have at least one phone that does not need electricity.
  • Act immediately if local officials order an evacuation. Plan an evacuation route ahead of time that travels over high ground.
  • Use text messaging to communicate with family and friends during a storm rather than cell phone calls. Text messages use less bandwidth and messages are more likely to get through.

Contact Neal P. Goswami at ngoswami@benningtonbanner.com

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