Maine emergency responders, residents bracing for Sandy

Hurricane Sandy is seen as it moves northward through the Bahamas in this NOAA satellite image taken at 10:45 a.m. on Friday.
NOAA | Reuters
Hurricane Sandy is seen as it moves northward through the Bahamas in this NOAA satellite image taken at 10:45 a.m. on Friday.
Posted Oct. 26, 2012, at 3:18 p.m.
Last modified Oct. 27, 2012, at 8:20 a.m.

Mainers and millions of others along the U.S. Eastern seaboard have turned their eyes to Hurricane Sandy, which is expected to make landfall Monday night near the Delaware coast, then hit two winter weather systems as it moves inland, creating a hybrid monster storm that could bring nearly a foot of rain, high winds and up to 2 feet of snow.

Experts on Friday said the storm would be wider and stronger than last year’s Irene, which caused more than $15 billion in damage, and could rival the worst East Coast storm on record.

Although the National Weather Service expects Sandy to turn inland south of Maine, the storm has the potential to create significant problems for the state beginning on Monday.

Noelle Runyan, warning coordination meteorologist at the NWS Caribou office, said Friday that sustained winds between 25 and 40 mph with higher gusts could show up along Maine’s coast Monday.

How much of a storm surge pushes its way into the Gulf of Maine likely will depend on whether Sandy stays on target for the mid-Atlantic region or veers further north than currently expected, she said.

“The overall strength still is going to be pretty high,” Runyan said.

In preparation, the Maine Emergency Management Agency held a conference call Friday afternoon with the National Weather Service and other emergency responders throughout the state and Gov. Paul LePage issued a limited emergency declaration that will speed up power restoration in the event of widespread outages.

The intensity of the storm in Maine will depend on its position as it turns inland. The NWS stressed that this is a difficult system to forecast, and that everyone should pay close attention to updated information as the storm approaches.

The rain is expected to linger for several days, bringing the risk of high stream flows and localized flooding.

The first and most important step for everyone is to stay informed, MEMA Director Rob McAleer said. “Pay close attention to the latest weather forecasts and warnings for your area. This is a very complex weather system, and with every NWS forecast cycle we learn more. The first step to staying safe is to stay tuned.”

“County and local emergency managers, first responders and utility companies are getting ready for a serious storm,” McAleer said. “But we all can take steps to make sure we can weather the storm.”

Given the potential for widespread power outages, Gov. LePage signed a limited emergency declaration that will allow power crews from other states and Canada to help Maine prepare for the storm. The declaration will help Maine power providers preplace their crews by extending the hours their crews can drive.

Spokesmen for Central Maine Power Co. and Bangor Hydro Electric Co. both said they had crews on standby and trucks fueled and ready to roll.

As Sandy began approaching the East Coast, Mainers began stocking up on storm essentials, Steven Oliver, assistant manager of Bell’s Orono IGA, said Friday afternoon.

“A lot of water, mostly by the gallon, prepared food like canned goods and pasta,” he said when asked what people were buying.

Also flying off the shelves were alcoholic beverages, signaling the likelihood that there will be storm-related social gatherings over the weekend, Oliver said. “We normally have good deals,” he said with a laugh.

Although it wasn’t yet clear how badly the storm would hit Maine, the store began getting unusually busy on Friday, Oliver said. He said he expected the spike would continue into the weekend.

“A lot of times people overreact, but we don’t mind,” Oliver said.

The likely mix of heavy rain and fallen leaves prompted Bangor officials to urge homeowners to pitch in by making sure that their storm drains are clear.

“If residents are willing and able, a few minutes to clear a storm drain near their home or business can help the city tremendously in keeping the over 3,000 storm drains clean,” Bangor Public Works Director Dana Wardwell said Friday.

“Public works crews will be out on Monday cleaning basins in anticipation of the storm, but this helping hand from the public can make a big difference,” he said. He also cautioned motorists to avoid driving through standing water.

Also on Friday, the American Red Cross said that preparation is the best protection against the dangers of a hurricane. The agency recommended that Mainers have available at least three days worth of water and nonperishable food, flashlights and batteries, first aid supplies, cellphones and chargers, as well as extra cash. The agency also said that Mainers should have medications, copies of personal documents and family and emergency contact information on hand.

For more information about disaster preparedness and safety, visit Maine Prepares at www.maineprepares.com. In addition, the Red Cross and other community organizations have partnered with 2-1-1 Maine to disseminate information which can be accessed by dialing 211 or visiting www.211maine.org.

Airline service will be affected, so check schedules accordingly.

Whether the last three cruise ships scheduled to visit Bar Harbor in 2012 actually show up in Frenchman Bay could depend on how Sandy makes its presence known along Maine’s coast, according to local Harbormaster Charlie Phippen.

As the weather worsens early next week, one ship is scheduled to visit on Tuesday, Oct. 30, and the final two on Wednesday, Oct. 31, Phippen said Friday.

“I’ve yet to hear if they are going to change their itineraries,” he said. “They’re definitely watching [the storm].”

According to Phippen, the ship Jewel of the Seas was in port on Friday as scheduled and Crystal Symphony was still expected to drop anchor off Mount Desert Island on Saturday. There are no ship visits scheduled for Sunday or Monday.

Nicole Clegg, spokeswoman for the city of Portland, said Friday that three more ships are expected to visit there in the next several days, one each on Saturday, Tuesday and Wednesday. She said those plans have not changed but could depending on how the storm progresses. Sometimes ships cancel their visits because of heavy weather but other times they have stayed in Portland’s well-protected harbor for an extra day or two to stay off the open ocean, Clegg said.

Whether ships cancel their visits or not, Phippen does expect some effect from the storm. Some marine forecasts for next Tuesday, when the storm surge is expected to peak in the Gulf of Maine, predict offshore wave heights of 19 to 24 feet, he said.

“I think we’ll get a monster sea and some precipitation,” Phippen said.

Runyan of the NWS said the storm surge predicted for Tuesday along the coast of eastern Maine is not expected to generate waves as high as the 20-foot seas expected offshore, though those predictions could increase or decrease by early next week. Still, there likely will be bigger surf than normal along the shoreline.

“People should not be out there watching the waves come in,” she said.

Ron Trundy, manager of the Stonington Lobster Co-op, said Friday that fishermen there have been moving their traps out to deeper water because of the anticipated storm. He said traps in shallower water tend to suffer more damage in storms because of turbulence near the surface.

“Beyond that, everyone is checking their moorings,” Trundy said.

This weekend, he said, people at the co-op and elsewhere along the waterfront will be out securing loose crates, bait totes and anything else that isn’t fastened down to make sure they are not carried off by high winds or coastal flooding.

James Franklin, branch chief for the National Hurricane Center, part of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, said Friday in a conference call with reporters that exactly where the storm will make landfall cannot be guaranteed four days ahead of time. But whether it lands in Virginia or Massachusetts, the storm will have widespread effects.

“This is going to be a very large system when it gets up that way,” Franklin said. “It’s going to be a long-lasting event, with two to three days of impacts for most people.”

BDN writers Bill Trotter and Dawn Gagnon and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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