Storm on track to hit Connecticut

With the latest forecasts showing Hurricane Irene on a path toward New England, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy urged Connecticut residents to begin preparing today for high winds and torrential rains that could leave swaths of the state without power, beginning Sunday.

“To put it as delicately as we can, we take this threat very very seriously. We believe that the time to prepare…is now,” Malloy said. “I think all of our citizens should take this very seriously. We do.”

As of midday, the National Weather Service expected Irene to cross the Connecticut coast near Stamford on Sunday afternoon as a Category 1 hurricane, meaning winds between 74 and 95 mph, according to Peter Boynton, the deputy commissioner of Emergency Services and Public Protection.

He cautioned in a conference call with reporters that this forecast will likely change, however, and winds might fall to tropical storm force, or below 74 mph.

“This variability is part of the reality of a hurricane,” he said.

Boynton said he was advising Connecticut residents to prepare for Hurricane Irene by taking three steps: “Get a kit, make a plan, stay informed.”

A hurricane a kit should include water, non-perishable food for at least three days, cash, and any prescriptions. Cars should be fueled, he said.

He said anyone living in low-lying areas near rivers and streams or in coastal areas should plan for possible evacuation by locating another place to go through family or friends or by identifying their local municipal shelter.

“If evacuation is necessary and advised, you need to heed advice,” Boynton said. “When you might need help the most, the first responders will probably have to take shelter themselves.”

Coastal towns also have surge maps indicating which towns prove most vulnerable to storm surges and possible flooding. Boynton stressed that no decisions about evacuation have been made and if evacuation proves necessary, it will not be on the scale of evacuating the entire state.

“People who live in low lying areas around rivers and streams that have the potential to flood should be especially cautious,” he said. “Evacuation, if necessary, would be relatively localized.”

The National Weather Service predicts hurricane force winds to cover 75 percent of the state and a total of 6 to 10 inches of rain, with a possibility of more in some areas. Again, Boynton said these figures are subject to change and that Connecticut residents keep updated through media.

“It’s all going to vary depending on the track, size and strength of the storm,” he said.

Boynton said state agencies are working closely together in preparation to provide emergency services while keeping in touch with the Federal Emergency Management Agency  and the American Red Cross. He also said Connecticut utility companies will provide additional crews on standby to help first clear roads and then work on power restoration.

Department of Energy and Environmental Protection Commissioner Daniel Esty is also working on a state park closure plan, Boynton said.

Individuals with an emergency this weekend should call 911. Anyone looking for emergency preparation information can contact their municipal emergency services or call 211 for general information.

Malloy will conduct an updated briefing for the media at 6 p.m.