People line up to make purchases at Brown and Roberts Hardware on Main Street in Brattleboro. The store had an increase in sales of oil lamps, batteries
People line up to make purchases at Brown and Roberts Hardware on Main Street in Brattleboro. The store had an increase in sales of oil lamps, batteries and flashlights due to the forecasted hurricane. (Zachary P. Stephens/Reformer)
Saturday August 27, 2011

MONTPELIER -- From regional Red Cross headquarters in Burlington to a marina at the confluence of the West and Connecticut rivers in Brattleboro, Vermonters spent a bright and sunny Friday getting ready for some heavy weather expected on Sunday.

Hurricane Irene has been churning up the East Coast, and is expected to mean high winds and heavy rains for parts of the region on Sunday.

Doug Bishop, a spokesman for the Red Cross in Vermont and New Hampshire, said the relief agency is stockpiling cots, getting a mobile kitchen ready and contacting volunteers.

"We may do some pre-positioning of cots, primarily in central and southern parts of the state," Bishop said. "We have trailers loaded with up to 300 cots and 600 blankets" ready to deploy where they're needed.

At Aubuchon Hardware on Montpelier's Main Street, clerk Chris Pollock said the store was already running low on flashlights and batteries as of Friday afternoon. One customer came in to buy sacks of potting soil to use as sandbags. "He was going to use them as sandbags and then as potting soil later," Pollock said with a laugh.

Dennis Smith, owner of the Marina restaurant and an attached marina where the West River meets the Connecticut, said he and his employees were scrambling Friday morning to warn slip renters to come and get their boats out of the water.

Heavy rains led to a sudden release of water from dams up the West River about five years ago, Smith said. "We had substantial damage, more to our docks than to the boats, but we lost a lot of boats. We had to retrieve them from down the river. This sounds three times as bad as that," he said of the approaching hurricane.

Forecasts indicated Brattleboro and southeastern Vermont were more likely to be in the storm's crosshairs than other parts of the state, but the National Weather Service station in South Burlington was warning of likely high winds and heavy rains elsewhere.

Widespread heavy rains are expected to develop early Sunday, forecasters said, with wind gusts of 50-70 mph, especially in eastern Vermont, while flash flooding and river flooding could be expected by evening throughout the state.

Vermont's electric utilities issued a joint statement saying they were bringing in emergency crews from as far away as Texas and Missouri to help clear downed trees and fixed downed power lines. The companies warned of potential widespread damage to their systems, and power outages lasting up to several days.

Schools and fairs planned to delay openings. The Champlain Valley Fair was scheduled to open on Sunday, but announced Friday it would push that back until Monday. A concert by Big Time Rush that had been set for Sunday evening will be held Monday evening instead, the fair said, with Sunday's tickets honored at the Monday show.

The Guilford Farmers' Market on Sunday had been cancelled, and in Brattleboro town officials were urging residents with scheduled trash pickup to not place trash and recycling containers out on Sunday. Due to the extent of the storm, there was a possibility trash pick-up would be delayed on Monday.

Gov. Peter Shumlin said state parks will remain open through the weekend, but urged visitors to use caution. The Green Mountain Club, meanwhile, urged hikers to stay home and off the trail network it manages; a similar message was issued by the U.S. Forest Service, which manages the Green Mountain National Forest.

"Although the full extent of the storm is still unclear, what we do know is Vermont is expected to experience winds and at least several inches of rain that could produce flooding," Shumlin said. "Being prepared is our best defense from whatever weather event this storm brings our way on Sunday."

Public safety officials offered several safety tips. Among them:

-- Monitor weather information from the National Weather Service (www.nws.gov/btv ), radio and TV broadcasts, print media, or Internet sources.

-- Stock up on water, non-perishable food and other supplies to be able to stay at homes for up to three days.

-- Prepare for power outages by stockpiling flashlights and fresh batteries and a battery powered radio. If you have a generator, ensure that it is professionally installed and can be operated without causing a carbon monoxide hazard. Report outages to your electric utility. Be sure you have at least one phone that does not need electricity.

-- If local officials order an evacuation, respond immediately. Plan your evacuation route ahead of time, one that brings you over high ground.

-- Use text messaging to communicate with family and friends during a storm if possible, rather than cell phone calls. Texts use much less bandwidth than cell phone calls and messages are more likely to get through.

Reformer staff contributed to this report.