Obama declares emergency in Connecticut

President Obama declared a state of emergency in Connecticut today, giving the federal government authority to coordinate disaster relief in anticipation of Hurricane Irene sweeping across Long Island and into Fairfield County on Sunday morning as a Category 1 storm.

A hurricane warning was issued  for the southern New England coast, and Gov. Dannel P. Malloy ordered that public transportation in Connecticut be suspended today, beginning with Metro-North train service at noon and bus and Shoreline East train service at 8 p.m.

He recommended that residents end travel by nightfall.

Hurricane force winds are expected by 7 a.m. Landfall in Connecticut is expected between Greenwich and Bridgeport, bring winds of more than 74 miles per hour and a storm surge.

Malloy Wyman

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, Lt. Gov. Nancy Wyman

Malloy warned that the state was likely to close the Wilbur Cross and Merritt parkways, where tree branches hang over the scenic roadway, endangering motorists. Based on current forecasts, the parkways are likely to be closed at midnight Saturday, he said.

The governor said the state’s utilities are poised to bring in hundreds of extra crews to clear downed trees, but he warned that widespread power outages are inevitable, with blackouts in some areas possibly lasting days or even weeks.

Malloy said there was a 75-percent chance at midday Friday that Irene would hit Connecticut with hurricane force winds on Sunday morning, preceded by tropical wind gusts and bands of heavy rain, beginning Saturday night.

Colleges scrambled to either delay or speed up the arrival of students, utilities braced for widespread power outages, the Jets-Giants game tonight was rescheduled to 2 p.m., and the Red Sox moved Sunday’s game to 5 p.m. today, trying squeeze in a double-header before Irene’s bands of rain reached Boston.

On Thursday, Malloy signed an emergency order as a preliminary step toward what he expects will be the evacuation of low-lying coastal areas. The governor also ordered state campgrounds, including coastal Rocky Neck State Park, closed at noon on Saturday.

Storm track as of 5 p.m. Friday

Projected storm track

Malloy said cranes were removed from the Q Bridge construction project in New Haven today to lessen the chancs of nearby power lines being knocked down. Many universities notified students they will not be allowed to move into their rooms on Sunday.

For state emergency personnel, Malloy said, it was “all hands on deck.”

“In summary, we take this very seriously. We are doing everything in our power as a state to be prepared,” Malloy said.

The state has established a web site with storm information, including links to statements posted by the University of Connecticut and the four campuses of the Connecticut State University System about new schedules for students to move in.

Fairfield University, located in a coastal community, canceled move-in activities scheduled for Sunday and Monday. It also warned seniors renting private homes for the school year on Fairfield Beach Road not to take occupancy until after the storm, saying a mandatory evacuation was likely in the beach area.

The University of Bridgeport, with a waterfront campus, also postoned the opening of its dorms until Tuesday.

In New London, Connecticut College pushed backed the arrival of new students from this weekend until Sept. 1. Returning students were told to delay their arrivals until the weekend of Sept. 3. Mitchell College has delayed the first day of classes until Sept. 1.

Students who do arrive at Mitchell before the storm are urged to bring bottled water, non-perishable food, two weeks worth of any necessar medications and a flashlight.

The University of Hartford is closing several flood-prone parking lots Friday night, and the school was to post its decision about Sunday’s move-in schedule by noon Friday.

Peter Boynton, the deputy commissioner of Emergency Services and Public Protection, 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 before Sunday, 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.

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.