Power outages expected
Plan for gusts up to 57 mph
Updated 12:27 a.m.
CAPITAL REGION As Hurricane Sandy nears the coast, emergency management officials are gearing up for more downed power lines than soaked basements.
The National Weather Service of Albany reported Sunday evening that high winds will most likely cause more problems than rain.
“It’s not going to be pretty,” said meteorologist Evan Heller, describing what the predicted 34-mph sustained winds and 57-mph gusts would likely do to power lines and dead trees across the Capital Region.
He said to expect wind and rain to start at approximately 6 a.m. today, building to peak intensity 12 hours later. Wind will slacken in the small hours of Tuesday morning with rain persisting into Wednesday.
Saratoga and Schenectady are set to get between 1.5 and 2 inches of rain, with slightly more to the west in Schoharie and Montgomery counties.
“This is nothing to be trifled with,” Gov. Andrew Cuomo said at a storm-related meeting at the New York Power Authority plant at Cohoes on Sunday afternoon. “This is not a storm to be played with.”
The point was highlighted by President Barack Obama declaring New York state in a state of emergency.
The declaration allows the federal government to provide assistance to state and local governments for evacuation, shelters and other storm-related actions.
Since the New York Canal Corporation has drawn down water levels along the Mohawk Valley by 12 to 16 feet below navigable levels to accommodate the flood surge, Schenectady Mayor Gary McCarthy isn’t worried about flooding.
“We’re in pretty good shape,” he said, adding the predicted 2 inches of rain falls well within the city’s storm drain system capacity.
He’s more concerned with power outages. In the last few days, all city generator and vehicle fuel tanks have been topped off. The Bevis Hill reservoir that provides water to city residents is also at capacity, which McCarthy says will help keep water pressure up even if pump stations lose power during the storm.
To the west in Schoharie County, emergency management director Kevin Neary is on guard for a weather event of Tropical Storm Irene magnitude.
“We’ve worked all weekend to make sure we’re all at a high level of readiness,” he said. “[Sandy] might look like a smaller storm, but we don’t know that for sure.”
Over the last few days, Neary briefed most county and emergency services department heads on storm protocols. Local schools are prepped and ready to act as emergency shelters for displaced residents. He’s spent hours on the phone with the state Emergency Management Office, Canal Corp. and National Grid.
“We’ve been through this too much already to not be prepared this time,” he said.
Neary’s Montgomery County counterpart Adam Schwabrow is heading up a slightly more relaxed readiness system.
“There’s a reason to be prepared,” he said, “but we’re not at the panic point yet.”
As the NWS in Albany predicts more high winds than rain, the county heavy equipment stored in Fonda was moved to strategic locations along the river to help remove any downed trees or power lines.
“We’re ready,” he said. “Now we just have to wait. This is the hardest part of the storm.”
In Albany the Red Cross headquarters has been a hub of activity for a few days already, with hundreds of volunteers working in 12-hour shifts.
According to Red Cross Communications Director Caroline Boardman, they’re working to line up food and water supplies and staff for possible shelter locations in 17 counties from Poughkeepsie to Plattsburgh.
After the wind dies down, damage assessment teams will head out to see where aid is most needed.
“Especially in Schoharie, we might send disaster mental health professionals,” she said. “[Residents] went through it last year. The thought of going through it again is really hard to handle.”
As of Sunday night, government and emergency management organizations were as ready as possible.
“Government is working well and doing everything it can do,” Cuomo said, “but the public has a responsibility in this also.”
Based upon local hardware sales, the public seems to be stepping up.
Rhonda Hypnorowski, assistant manager of the Cambridge Road Home Depot in Schenectady, described a frantic scene Sunday morning.
“People were buying generators right off the pallet,” she said. “They didn’t even look at them or check the wattage or anything else.”
In just three hours they sold out of 19 $800 generators. Two were returned and purchased again before reaching the shelf.
Sales associate Liz Safford said they also sold out of D batteries. Flashlights, 24 packs of bottled water and sump pumps were also selling too fast to be restocked.
Safford said last year people stocked up before Irene, but not nearly as much.
The Freemans Bridge Road Lowe’s Home Improvement store in Glenville also sold out of generators, sump pumps and certain batteries.
“People are scared of this one,” she said. “They’re taking it seriously this time.”