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Coastal communities issue mandatory evacuations; massive storm surge expected

By Joe Wojtas, Karen Florin, Lee Howard, Kimberlty Drelich and Julianne Hanckel Day Staff Writers

Publication: theday.com

Published October 27. 2012 3:00PM   Updated October 28. 2012 9:53PM

The towns of Old Lyme, Stonington, Groton, Westerly, East Lyme, Waterford, Old Saybrook and the city of New London all issued mandatory evacuation orders this afternoon for residents who live in flood prone areas.

"We want people to have plenty of time to get out," said Stonington First Selectmen Ed Haberek this afternoon. "If we wait until Monday night it will be too late."

Haberek said that as of 3 p.m. the town will be ordering people in low lying coastal areas, many of which are south of Route 1 to head to higher ground inland or go to the emeregency shelter at the high school which opens at 5 p.m. Those areas include Masons Island, Lords Point and along the Pawcatuck River, where the Route 1 bridge in the downtown could be overtopped by flood waters Monday or Tuesday, he said.

"This is like the March 2010 flood and Hurricane Irene together," he said about the past two storms that impacted the town.

In what could cause major disruption in the region's traffic, state police are considering closing the Gold Star Bridge if winds hit 40 miles per hour.   

AccuWeather meteorologist Mark Paquette said this afternoon that Hurricane Sandy's impact in southeastern Connecticut will be felt most strongly starting during the morning commute time Monday and running into the evening. The main problem along the shoreline will be wind gusts from 60 mph to 80 mph, Paquette said.

"This isn't a normal hurricane; it's a hybrid system," he said. "It's like a nor'easter on steroids."

Paquette predicted the region will experience 2 to 4 inches of rain during a 48-hour period starting Monday, but sustained winds of 50 mph will wreak the most havoc by downing power lines.

Joseph Sastre, director of emergency management for the Town of Groton, said he has heard predictions of a 6- to 7-foot storm surge above the normal high tides. Each high tide will be worse than the last during three high-tide cycles as the storm hits, he said.

As bad as it may be in this region, southern Connecticut was expected to fare much worse by being belted with more rain and stronger storm surges than the southeastern part of the state is likely to see, Sastre said.

Old Lyme, meanwhile, has issued a mandatory evacuation for those living south of Route 156 and is asking residents to go to safe location by the end of the day today. Emergency officials are asking residents to secure valuables, turn off main electrcial breakers, close and secure any propane tanks and bring valuable documents with them. Residents can also go to the regional shelter at East Lyme Middle School which will open today at 4 p.m.

Old Lyme First Selectwoman Bonnie Reemsnyeder said the town's emergency operations center is in full operation and that police and fire crews are using bullhorns in the low-lying areas to tell people to evacuate.

"We are telling people that for their own safety they need to get out of these areas," Reemsnyder said. "This is predicted to have the potential of catastrophic flooding beyond the Hurricane of '38."

The storm will be occurring over four different tide cycles, and water will keep pushing up rivers and streams, she said.

The town will be looking for volunteers to help out in the wake of the storm, Reemsnyder said. Those who are available should call (860) 598-0025 and leave their contact information.

East Lyme issued a state of emergency and a mandatory evacuation of all coastal low-lying areas late this afternoon. The town said residents within any tidal body of water should evacuate no later than 11 a.m. Monday. If they stay, the town warned rescuers may not be able to reach them.

The American Red Cross regional shelter at the East Lyme Middle School got its first customer just moments after it opened at 4 p.m. today.

Adele Sosnowski, 89, of Uncasville brought a pillow, afghan and a "bag full of goodies" with her, along with a sense of humor.

"I thought you might not allow people my age because this is a middle school," Sosnowski told the intake workers. Asked if she had any pets, she said, "just my Teddy bear, which I left at home."

Sosnowski could have stayed with her nephew, Paul Abramowicz of Waterford, who dropped her off at the shelter and waited while the workers made her comfortable. But she preferred to go to the shelter, where she thought she might see some of her contemporaries.

"There's really a community atmosphere when you come to places like this," Abramowicz said. "Everybody's just riding out the storm together."

Shelter guests continued to arrive at a steady rate, carrying suitcases, blankets and in some cases, dog and cat carriers. The shelter is available to residents of New London, Montville, Old Lyme, East Lyme and Waterford and will remain open as long as necessary, said shelter manager Dawn Davis.

People can come at any time, she said, noting that during Irene, some who thought they could ride out the storm at home came running in through the wind and rain in the middle of the night. If possible, people should bring their own toiletries, blankets and pillows, she said.

Old Saybrook issued a mandatory evacuation tonight for properties south of I-95, along the Connecticut River and in other low lying areas.

"The destruction that will be caused by this storm is unmatched to anything we have experienced in Old Saybrook before," the town said in its announcment.

The high school will serve as the town's emergency shelter and parking is available there as well as along Main Street for those who need to relocate vehicles.

Waterford announced at 6 p.m. today that it has called for a mandatory evacuation of residents in low-lying areas by noon Monday. The town had said earlier that evacuations would be voluntary, but First Selectman Dan Steward decided to make them mandatory after a phone conference with Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, according to Police Chief Murray Pendleton. Mandatory evacuations affecting about 500 people are being directed at such areas as Oil Mill Road, Ridgewood Park, Pleasure Beach, Mago Point, the lower parts of Niantic River Road, Millstone Road and Braman Road, as well as areas near Jordan Brook. Residents are being notified through Emergency Notification System phone calls as well as by police cruiser loudspeakers. Transportation to an emergency center at East Lyme Middle School will be available from 8 a.m. to 11:30 p.m. Monday by calling 860-442-9585. Backup emergency centers are at East Lyme High School and the Waterford Community Center.

The Town of Westerly has declared a local state of emergency and has ordered a mandatory evacuation of areas along the shore by 8 p.m. tonight.

The mandatory evacuation is for Misquamicut, all areas south of Shore Road, Weekapaug, Watch Hill, Avondale and along the Pawacutuck River up to the Stillman Avenue bridge.

A regional shelter at Chariho Middle School, Switch Road, Wood River Junction, will open at 5 p.m. Transportation will be available from the Westerly Senior Center at 6:30 p.m. and 8: 30 p.m.

Residents who are evacuating may bring pets to the Westerly Animal Shelter, Larry Hirsch Drive, until 10 p.m.

Apple Rehab is relocating residents from its Watch Hill location to inland facilities throughout Rhode Island. Staff members will follow residents to the centers where they have been relocated.

Mitchell College, which will be closed Monday and Tuesday, are evacuating students from its Waterfront Residence Halls and Thames Academy and placing them students in residence halls on its Upper Campus away from the Thames River. The college said that while students are welcome to return home, it is prepared to accommodate all students who remain on campus.

At 2:30 this afternoon, New London Mayor Justin Daryl Finizio ordered the mandatory evacuation of all people living in flood zones by tonight at the latest, closed city and school buildings for Monday and Tuesday, activated the Emergency Operations Center at Fire headquarters and opened the city's shelter at Winthrop School at 3 p.m. If residents need a ride to Winthrop School, where 200 cots have been stockpiled, they can call (860) 440-6687.

Finizio said that during a conference call this morning with Gov. Dannel Malloy, he was notified that New London should prepare for a "worst-case scenario" which include storm surges two to four feet higher than the Hurricane of 1938. The city has been under a state of emergency since Saturday.

Finizio called Hurricane Sandy a "once in a lifetime" kind of storm and urged residents to take the mandatory evacuations seriously.

"This is the longest and most sustained storms our community has had to deal with. Once the winds reach their (highest) velocity and once certain roads get flooded out, our emergency management personnel will not have the ability to return and evacuate you. You may be trapped in your home for an extended period of time," he said.

He also said that the city's sewer pumps are turned on but that the level of flooding will "exceed our system's capacity."

"Our water pumps are fully operational and they have been tested but this level of flooding will easily exceed our pumps' capacity," he said.

Finizio ordering mandatory evacuation of Admiral Dr., Chapel Dr., Elliot Ave., Elm St. (Betweet Lincoln and Garfield), Glenwood Ave. to intersection of Lower Blvd., Guthrie Pl., Hamilton St., Ledyard St., Lincoln Ave., Lower Ocean Ave. (from Jerome to Ocean Beach), Lower Montauk Ave. (from Lower Blvd. to end of Montauk), Lower Blvd., Mott Ave., Mott Ct., Neptune Ave., Neptune Ct., Parkway South, Pequot Ave. (Water side), Quinnepeag Ave., Requinn St., Rocbourne Ln., Rogers St., Stuart Ave.

Tonight, Finizio expanded the list to include Shaw Street from Hamilton to the traffic circle, Hamilton Street and Howard Street to the traffic circle, Peqout Avenue from the traffic circle to Converse Place (both sides) and all of Neptune Park including Park Street and Stuart Avenue.

Finzio announced residents will be able to park for free in the Water Street parking garage today through Wednesday. He said announcements regarding evacuation orders would be made over the city's public address system and city workers would go door-to-door, if necessary, to deliver instructions. Information also will be disseminated via local media outlets and at the "Office of Mayor Finizio" Facebook page, he said.

In Westerly, Apple Rehab is relocating residents from its Watch Hill location to inland facilities throughout Rhode Island. Staff members will follow residents to the centers where they have been relocated.

Groton City has issued a mandatory evacuation of low-lying areas, such as Jupiter Point, parts of Eastern Point Beach and the eastern side of Thames Street as of 6 p.m. today. Anyone living close to the water should consider evacuating, said Mayor Marian Galbraith. A telephone warning is being sent to residents of affected areas, and the city police will also be making public-address announcements outside homes in these neighborhoods. She said people who do not evacuate may not be reachable during the storm. A shelter will open at Fitch High School at 4 p.m.

Groton Town police issued a mandatory evacuation this afternoon for the following areas ats of 7 p.m.: Mumford Cove,Esker Point, Marsh Road, Noble Avenue, Morgan Point, Riverview Avenue, Front Street, Latham Lane, Bayside Avenue, Elm Street, south of Fishtown Road, Tryon Avenue, Center Street, Cedar Drive, Willow Point, Fort Rachel Place, Gravel Street, Pearl Street, Grove Street, Eldridge Avenue, River Road, Route 27, Old Mystic, North Stonington Road, the east side of Midway Oval, Ring Drive, east of Meryl Court, South Road, Tower Avenue, Thomas Road, High Rock Road, Cranston Drive, Hyrock Terrace and High Rock Mobile Home Park.

Joseph R. Sastre, director of emergency services, warned residents of Mumford Cove to get out before it is too late, because there is only one exit, over a bridge, and if waters rise 4 to 5 feet, it could become impassable.

Amtrak, meanwhile has cancelled all Northeast Corridor service north of New York starting at 7 p.m. tonight nearly all service on the eastern seaboard on Monday.

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