(Updated 6:16 p.m.) Shortly before 5 p.m. Thursday Gov. Dannel P. Malloy signed a declaration of civil preparedness as the state braces for what is expected to be the largest hurricane since Gloria in 1985.
As an additional precaution, Malloy said he is ordering all state campgrounds closed by noon Saturday and removing the cranes from the Q-Bridge in New Haven to make sure they don’t interfere with electrical lines.
“There’s no way that looking at any of the maps we’re seeing right now that one could feel secure that we’ll dodge this,” Malloy said when he gave his 6 p.m. update on Hurricane Irene. “We’re becoming more certain that we’re likely to be impacted.”
“This is a massive storm, moving slowly with a lot of wind,” Malloy said.
The most current forecast predicted rain would begin Saturday afternoon with rain and winds worsening over time. Department of Emergency Services and Public Protection Deputy Commissioner Peter Boynton said Irene is expected to make landfall in Stamford at around 5 p.m., Sunday as a Category 1 storm.
“I’m urging and will communicate to local communities that they spend the hours between now and the possible landfall in preparing themselves for evacuation,” Malloy said.
The storm could easily bring around 10 inches of rain to the state over a 24 hour period, he said. Officials should do everything in their power to ensure all drainage systems are functioning at their best, he said.
Malloy said his administration has begun modeling the rainfall to anticipate which rivers and streams may be impacted by flooding. They are also modeling the possible effects of a storm surge, he said.
“It is as bad a storm as we have been dealing with, at least with respect to the [Emergency Operations Center] folks who briefed me, in a very long time,” he said.
During the 6 p.m. update Malloy said he received a “pretty detailed” response plan from electric and gas utility companies who will also be responding to the storm.
He said at least one utility has canceled vacations for its employees and another has already secured a contract with tree crews to bring in 120 additional workers and is looking for a further commitment.
As a Category 1 hurricane, Irene is expected to bring winds between 74 and 95 mph and be accompanied by a 4 to 5 foot storm surge to coastal towns. Though it is the lowest hurricane severity level, Malloy and Boynton said the storm has the potential to be highly dangerous for three reasons: it’s very large, carrying a lot of water and it’s slow moving.
That means the storm could be dumping water on the state for a long period of time. Boynton said the storm itself will likely cover the entirety of Connecticut and much of southern New England, while the hurricane force winds are currently projected to affect about three quarters of the state.
Boynton said while evacuation plans are being made, it’s not clear whether they will be necessary. He offered three pieces of advice for Connecticut residents.
First, get a kit. That means stock up on water, non-perishable food items for up to three days, make sure there is cash on hand, ensure that prescriptions are filled ahead of time, and have adequate fuel in vehicles, he said.
Next, he said make a plan.
“If you live in a low lying coast area or near streams or rivers that have the potential to flood, where would you go in the event an evacuation is needed?” he said.
Plans should identify where municipal shelters are in the community, make sure family members have working contact information, and make sure everyone is on the same page about where to gather in an emergency, he said.
Lastly, people should stay informed about the status of the storm.
“Because a shift in the track of the hurricane of just a few miles can have a significant impact, it’s very important to stay informed by listening to radio and TV,” he said.
Current models of the storm’s path are unusually consistent, Boynton said. But the track of the storm will change over time. He stressed the importance of heeding the instructions of public officials if the storm does reach Connecticut.
Malloy said he is doing everything he can to position state agencies to deal with whatever the storm will bring. A unified command of stage agencies is meeting every 12 hours at the armory to re-asses Irene’s path and make preparations for its landfall, he said.
They are looking at possible evacuation routes, in case they become necessary, and preparing to close state parks, looking at wind and water damage modeling and communicating with local officials, he said.
Boynton said the state police are preparing their equipment and personnel, as is the Department of Emergency Management and Homeland Security. The Military Department is also briefing National Guard troops, he said.
“This is a very, very serious event and every one of our citizens and every one of our public servants needs to be preparing for it, with the hope that it blows out to sea,” Malloy said.
The governor said he wasn’t concerned that he would be criticized for over-reacting if it changed path and avoided the state.
“I would rather be accused of over-preparing than under-preparing,” he said.
Malloy will be receiving updates on a consistent basis. The state has even created a website for residents to stay up to date on Hurricane Irene.