Hurricance Sandy: Anxious Windham County watching and waiting
WINDHAM COUNTY -- Hundreds of extra line crews from areas outside New England traveled to Vermont early Monday morning to make sure there was support in case of widespread power outages in the wake of Hurricane Sandy.
Gov. Peter Shumlin on Sunday had declared a state of emergency, enabling him to call upon the National Guard as needed. Meanwhile, many Vermonters, some still in the process of recovering following last year's historic floods caused by Tropical Storm Irene, remained anxious Monday afternoon, watching and waiting to see what havoc this latest storm would wreak.
The National Weather Service says that, unlike Irene, the primary threat from Sandy is wind, with gusts expected to reach 60 to 80 mph early Tuesday. Flooding, however, still remained a threat, especially in parts of southern Vermont.
Entergy Vermont Yankee Spokesman Rob Williams said the company was spending Monday preparing for the storm.
Crew members were testing generators and making sure they were topped off with fuel. Loose equipment on the grounds was being tied down, and administrators were making sure that all necessary staff members had backup in case they were not able to get into work.
The company was also testing communication equipment to make sure it would be able to transmit and receive information throughout the storm.
"We've been taking several actions," Williams said. "It is all driven by procedure. We are in excellent shape to ride out this storm."
Vermont Agency of Transportation said it had 540 workers out on the roads Monday with chainsaws to take care of downed trees and keep roads open.
And Vermont Emergency Management opened its Emergency Operations Center in the morning and held a conference call with town legislators and city managers and mayors across the state.
Doug Bishop, spokesman for the Vermont and New Hampshire Valley chapter of the American Red Cross, said shelters across the state are stocked and poised to be opened in case damage from the storm is widespread.
Shelters opened at the Twin Valley High School in Wilmington and at the Mountain School in Winhall. Other shelters were on standby in Brattleboro Union High School, Brattleboro; and Project Independence, Bennington.
"We've been working on this since last week, and we're ready for whatever Sandy brings to bear on this region," Bishop said. "All of our locations are on alert and, depending on the storm and on our needs, we will get the shelters open as they are needed."
Bishop said the Red Cross has about 300 sites, both large and small, that are designated for emergency shelters. And the organization has mobile trailers positioned throughout Vermont and northern New Hampshire.
"If this is a large scale event we are ready to open our shelters," he said. "We have been preparing for this and we are well-situated. We are poised and ready to move."
Around Windham County, emergency officials worked tirelessly on Monday addressing key concerns and making sure they were prepared for whatever was to come.
In Westminster, the town that bills itself as the oldest in Vermont, officials were regularly updating their website -- westminstervt.org -- to alert residents to about Hurricane Sandy's development.
Westminster Town Manager Matt Daskal believed his town would be dealing with a lot of downed trees and power lines due to high winds.
Halifax held several meetings over the past several days. The town's road crew has been clearing ditches and making sure water is running while citizens fueled up their generators and stocked up on food.
"We're going to get walloped by a storm. We'll have to clean it up after," said Christina Moore, Halifax recovery administrator and EMS chief. "I don't want to do it all over again, but I've watched how brilliantly we've worked with state agencies and FEMA in the past with Irene."
Grafton Town Administrator Jackie LeBlanc said the town's road foreman was given special authority during a meeting Sunday night to hire any contractors he deems necessary to assist during Hurricane Sandy.
"Danny Taylor can hire anyone -- such as people with chain saws or big trucks -- if the help is needed between Monday and Sunday, Nov. 4," she said.
The authority was granted at a meeting attended by Grafton Fire and Rescue, the Grafton Selectboard and anyone in the community who wanted to learn more about the town's emergency preparations.
Jamaica Selectboard Chairman Alexa Clark said her town officials have been preparing as they would for any disaster or storm.
"We have a command center that will open and generators if necessary. Fire and rescue are always ready," Alexa Clark said.
Jamaica's main shelter is located at the Masonic Lodge on Main Street; the Red Cross shelter is at the town's grade school.
"If people need emergency shelter, just call the town office and we'll send them to the right place," Alexa Clark said. "We take care of each other. Most people are self-sufficient. Most people have been through bad storms. Hopefully, it won't be as bad as they say it is."
Guilford's emergency shelter is scheduled to open at 8 a.m. Tuesday morning at Guilford Community Church in Algiers, Selectboard Chairman Dick Clark said.
Officials met Monday afternoon to plan for the storm. Dick Clark said the risk of flooding exists but is not as great as the risk of damage from high winds.
"It's mainly wind," he said. "We're figuring on power outages."
That led to the decision to open the emergency shelter, where food will be available, Dick Clark said. Also, the town's emergency-operations center opened Monday at Guilford Volunteer Fire Department.
While Guilford residents reporting an emergency should dial 911, nonemergency inquiries can be directed to the fire station at 802-254-4413, he said.
In Newfane, the threat of high winds and heavy rains from Hurricane Sandy forced officials on Monday to postpone a special town meeting that had been scheduled for Tuesday. The session -- regarding property damaged by Tropical Storm Irene and whether the town should purchase it -- is now slated for 6 p.m. Nov. 8 at NewBrook fire station on Route 30.
And in Bellows Falls, an emergency exercise planned for the Arch Bridge on Tuesday has been postponed as town officials and emergency personnel have their hands full with the storm.
"I've got to believe everything will be pretty darn busy," Rockingham/Bellows Falls Municipal Manager Tim Cullenen said. "I know (our) highway department will be pushed to the limit."
While the storm was expected to peak overnight Monday, some residents were already feeling the effects earlier in the day.
"There's actually been little power outage," Wilmington Town Clerk Scott Murphy said. He added that the lights flickered several times throughout the afternoon in the downtown area, and he'd heard of at least one outage on the outskirts of town which was repaired shortly thereafter.
A high wind warning was in effect in Dover, from 6 a.m. Monday through 11 a.m. Tuesday morning. Officials were asking residents to "document all Irene-related repairs in the event of future damage" and to call police if there are any emergencies during the storm.
Most schools in the Windham Central Supervisory Union, including Leland & Gray Union High School in Townshend, will be closed Tuesday due to anticipated storm-related problems.
The exception is Marlboro Elementary, where Principal Francie Marbury was planning for a two-hour delay as of Monday evening. That could change based on weather conditions in the morning, Marbury said.
Marlboro also hosted a full day of classes on Monday, while the rest of the central union's schools closed early due to the storm's approach.
Changing forecasts made it difficult to decide whether to call off classes throughout the 365-square-mile central union, said Superintendent Steven John.
"The terrain varies, and the towns vary," he said, while also noting that "there's no doubt this is not your usual storm."
Further north, officials from Chester requested that residents keep their children indoors for Halloween. Trick-or-treating was being postponed until Wednesday, Nov. 7.
The Reformer contacted several police departments around Windham County, but none were ready to offer the same announcement. Most were taking a wait-and-see approach to the storm, and said when and if a decision was made regarding Halloween, an announcement would be made then.
For a full list of cancellations and closings, visit www.reformer.com.
Reformer reporters Howard Weiss-Tisman, Domenic Polie, Mike Faher and Chris Mays and the Associated Press contributed to this report.
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