By KIM SMITH DEDAM
---- — AUSABLE FORKS — Gov. Andrew Cuomo met with first responders and emergency personnel here Sunday afternoon as Hurricane Sandy churned toward the Northeast.
He stopped in for about 90 minutes to make sure communication lines are open and clear, and first response staging ready for public safety.
It was Cuomo’s third stop around the state before returning to New York City ahead of the hybrid mega-storm poised to blow ashore just south of Manhattan today.
Flanked by National Guardsmen, state police and State Emergency Management Office coordinators, the governor urged people to pay attention.
“Citizens have a role also,” Cuomo said. “They have to be sensible. They have to be smart.”
He told local officials he spoke earlier Sunday with President Barack Obama about preparedness measures taking place all around the state.
And he was here to be sure local leaders have what they need ahead of the storm.
Department of Transportation has staged 200 big trucks and loaders in the North Country to help keep roads open, he said.
More than 1,000 National Guardsmen poised to assist.
“I wanted to find out how we plug in,” he told Essex County Supervisor’s Chairman Randy Douglas (D-Jay).
“It (disaster impact) almost always turns out to be a little different than you thought,” he cautioned.
“We don’t know what it is yet. The anticipation is frustrating.”
New Yorkers will know later today what is coming ashore. National Weather Service meteorologists are calling it to be part hurricane, part Nor’easter.
But devastation in this region usually involves roads, transportation issues, trees and power lines, the governor observed from his experience with Tropical Storm Irene last year.
As the governor met with Essex and Franklin County emergency workers, firefighters and town crews kept busy filling sandbags beside the AuSable Forks ambulance squad garage.
Erin Himmel, assistant chief of the AuSable Forks Fire Department, held a traffic-safety cone upside-down like a funnel.
Robbie Lincoln, assistant chief in Upper Jay, shoveled and behind them, Glenn Williams, chief of the Jay Fire Department; John Pulsifer, a firefighter in Upper Jay; and Chris Sorell, assistant chief in Upper Jay kept at it.
They filled a few hundred sandbags, and seemed generally upbeat about area preparedness.
“I’d like to see just an inch or two of rain,” Lincoln said.
The imminent storm could drop up to three or four inches over the next two or three days, but that amount of rain would likely not send the flashy Ausable River over its banks.
Sandy’s wrath will likely be a major wind event with gusts blowing upwards of 60 mph, the firefighters said.
“Make sure you have food stocked and bottled water,” Lincoln said.
He warned residents to “stay away from any downed trees and any downed power lines until the fire department gets there.”
The sand bag crew said the American Red Cross has already staged the Jay town building as a community shelter.
Red Cross’s North Country Chapter’s Executive Director Lynn Gilbert met with Cuomo Sunday, too.
She said they have 17 shelter sites ready to open ahead of the storm.
Essex County Emergency Services Director Don Jaquish, Clinton County Emergency Director Eric Day and his assistant director Kelly Donoghue apprised Cuomo of their response plan set for both water and wind damage.
The two counties are monitoring this storm closely, both planning to open Emergency Operations Centers at noon on Monday. Franklin County, where they also expect wind damage and power outages, will open its Operations Center at 8 a.m
Emergency directors have contacted all area school superintendents, Donoghue said, and advised districts to either close for the day today or plan for early dismissal at noon.
Donoghue said parents should stay tuned for school closing information early today.
Otherwise, it appears preparations here are well under way and in order.
“Plan for the worst, hope for the best,” seemed to be the catch phrase of the afternoon.
County emergency directors are asking people to call their local town officials if they need specific assistance, and that information will be brought to county attention.
“People should call 911 if they have an emergency,” Jaquish said.
A special 211 line has been set up to disperse important information.
Day said they will be constantly updating the information line at 211 as shelters open or roads close.
“If shelters are established, we will get the word out,” he said, despite the threat of widespread power outages.
All first responders advised people to be sure they have a radio available with fresh batteries and to be prepared for at least 72 hours without power.
The Jay and Upper Jay firefighters said the sandbags beside the ambulance garage are available for use by anyone in town who needs them.
Should everyone weather the storm here safely, they are on notice to help in the cities to the south, Himmel said.
New York and Long Island are looking at massive flood scenarios should storm surge reach the 8 to 11 feet projected with this storm.
“We’ll go,” Himmel said. “They helped us after Irene. We have to repay that.”
Obama declared New York a federal disaster area about 7:30 Sunday evening.
Email Kim Smith Dedam: email@example.com
Forecasters continue to predict that Tropical Storm Sandy will strike the North Country a glancing blow today with 1 to 2 inches of rain and winds gusting to 70 mph.
Although the storm track may change, as of Sunday evening the National Weather Service predicted that heavy rain and wind will affect Northern New York beginning this afternoon.
Sustained winds are forecast to be 30 to 40 mph with occasional gusts reaching 70 mph possible. Winds are expected to peak between 5 p.m. Monday and 3 a.m. Tuesday.
At this time it appears that high winds are the greatest threat with power outages predicted. Although 2 inches of rain is possible, and some isolated areas could receive more, most of the region will receive 1 inch or less, the Weather Service predicts. Flooding is possible in flood-prone areas.
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