Saturday October 27, 2012

BRATTLEBORO -- Brattleboro Housing Authority Executive Director Chris Hart said the organization is still cleaning up from Tropical Storm Irene.

BHA's Melrose Terrace suffered extensive damage during last year's historic storm and the housing authority is waiting on the grants to install storm gates and elevate the water heaters off the floors of the most vulnerable apartments.

But instead of continuing the work at Melrose, Hart spent Friday securing loose items, removing picnic tables and toys from the yards and comforting weary tenants who could be facing another evacuation as Hurricane Sandy barrels its way toward New England.

"This is not what I expected to be doing in late October," Hart said early Friday. "Obviously we are not going to have the storm gate inserts we wanted so we are going to spend the next few days putting down sand bags to try to keep the water out. I don't think anybody is ready to go through this again."

Hart held a meeting with Brattleboro officials Thursday and Friday and said everyone would be keeping a close watch on the weather reports as the storm moves north.

Hurricane Sandy killed 22 people as it made its way across the Caribbean Thursday and weather experts say it could change into an even bigger and more dangerous storm as it merges with a winter storm that is making its way across the Midwest.


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Last year, during Irene, residents in West Brattleboro were evacuated the day before the rain started and Hart said the same precaution might be taken if it looks like Vermont is going to be in the path of the hurricane once again.

"People are obviously pretty apprehensive about this," Hart said. "It's not good news. Even if we don't get rain the heavy winds could affect all of the properties. You have to prepare for the worst and hope for the best."

Hart said she will probably make a decision about evacuating the residents sometime Monday as the storm track is clearer.

She said town officials will talk about where they expect to set up an emergency shelter in the next few days.

Emergency response officials across the state were scrambling Friday to prepare for the storm, which meteorologists are calling unpredictable, but potentially dangerous.

As of late Friday, weather experts said the Mid-Atlantic coastal region could see the worst of the damage, though they also say the storm has the potential of causing more damage than Irene.

"Delaware is smack dab in the crosshairs based on the current path projections," said Chip Guy, a spokesman for Sussex County, home to southern Delaware's beaches. Forecasters expect the hurricane to turn inland around Delaware, but said it could still hit as far north as New York.

The brunt of the weather mayhem will be concentrated where the hurricane comes ashore early Tuesday, but there will be hundreds of miles of steady, strong and damaging winds and rain for the entire Eastern region for several days, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Wherever Sandy comes ashore will get 10 inches of rain and extreme storm surges, Louis Uccellini, NOAA's environmental prediction director, said in a Friday news conference. Other areas not directly on Sandy's entry path will still get 4 to 8 inches of rain, maybe more, he said. Up to 2 feet of snow should fall on West Virginia, with lighter snow in parts of Ohio and Pennsylvania, regardless of where Sandy first hits.

Windham Regional Commission Executive Director Chris Campany said the state is a far way from finishing all of the projects that were forced by the destruction brought on by Tropical Storm Irene.

He also warned that if Vermont gets a lot of rain there could be more widespread damage, and it could be even worse than before.

"There is definitely still a lot of work to be done," Campany said.

Campany said when Irene pounded Vermont last year it changed the course of rivers, created new channels in the streams and left silt and rocky deposits in the waterways that will make any future flooding unpredictable.

If there is more flooding next week, Campany warned that it could occur in places that were not typically affected by heavy rain, which could catch people off guard.

"We've only had one season to recover, and we haven't really had heavy rain to let us see how the stream banks are going to respond," Campany said. "We are very vulnerable right now. The stream banks are unstable and it is going to be hard to predict how they are going to react. The channels are very young and they are still figuring out where they want to go."

Campany also warns municipalities and home owners to make sure they have accurate records of the damage caused by Irene and to be prepared to prove how any new damage occurs following Hurricane Sandy

If FEMA officials returns to Vermont after Sandy they are going to want to know what was done after Irene and what precautions were taken to minimize further damage.

One positive aspect of just going through something like Irene, Campany said, is that emergency officials are well-prepared for another disaster.

Maps are up to date, emergency management directors are familiar with what their responsibilities are and property owners are hopefully taking the oncoming storm seriously, he said.

"Last time we had to do a lot on the fly," Campany said. "This time the state is ahead of it. We have protocol and hopefully everyone knows what their responsibilities are."

"I think we're prepared. Last year's lesson is a lesson well-learned," said Town Manager Scott Murphy, after Wilmington's second meeting preparing for the storm. "We're trying to get ahead of the curve this time."

Brattleboro Assistant Town Manager Patrick Moreland said town staff members met Thursday and are going to closely monitor the weather over the next few days.

"The plans are progressing," he said early Friday. "We are watching the storm and staying in close contact with our most vulnerable population."

Even if the latest predictions are true, which show the brunt of the storm pounding the coast, Vermont could still see substantial rain and high winds. Windham County Sheriff Keith Clark was busy preparing for the storm on Friday, including arranging for on-call staff and checking equipment.

"As far as preparation, there's really not much more we can do," Clark said.

As president of the Vermont Sheriffs' Association, Clark also sent a list to the state detailing the availability of emergency equipment at departments around Vermont.

Clark said he was hearing forecasts predicting 1 to 3 inches of rain and winds reaching 50 to 60 mph on Tuesday, possibly leading to widespread power outages.

"We really don't know whether it's going to be more rain or wind," he said.

Clark added that his Newfane-based department tweaked some of its response procedures - for instance, where and how resources are allocated in an emergency - after Tropical Storm Irene struck Vermont in August 2011.

"There were a lot of lessons learned from Irene," Clark said. "Some of them were painful, but we learned."

Irene hit Newfane particularly hard last year, and town officials on Friday were bracing for another blow from Sandy.

"All we can do is be prepared and hope nature takes a different course," said Jon Mack, Newfane Selectboard chairman.

The town's preparations included clearing culverts and removing debris from ditches. The NewBrook fire station is set to open as an emergency-operations center if necessary, and there would be private-sector help available as well.

"All the major contractors in the area are on alert and ready," Mack said.

Green Mountain Power Spokeswoman Dorothy Schnure said the utility was lining up out of state crews in case there are wide spread power outages.

"We have been tracking this storm since Monday," she said. "While the path and the severity of the storm is uncertain, we are preparing well in advance so that we can respond quickly to any outages that may occur."

Reformer reporters Mike Faher and Chris Mays and the Associated Press contributed to this report.

Howard Weiss-Tisman can be reached at hwtisman@reformer.com or at 802-254-2311 ext. 279.