West Hartford town officials and managers have been meeting regularly all week, planning for the increasingly likely onslaught of Hurricane Irene this weekend.
“The hatches are battened down, so everything is as ready as possible for the storm,” said Ron Van Winkle.
The has been checking to make sure that culverts are not blocked and catch basins are free of debris. “Our drainage system is built for a 10-year storm, and can’t hold as much water as we may get with this potential 100-year storm, so there will likely be flooded roads,” said Van Winkle. However, ensuring that all drains are open will get the water off the streets as quickly as possible once the rain stops.
“We have already rented chippers and grinders. We know we’ll lose trees even if the winds are only 60 mph,” said Van Winkle. The equipment will allow public works employees to remove storm debris as soon as possible. Payloaders have also been moved to fire stations to assist with cleanup work.
Van Winkle said that town employees have also swept streets, inspected bridges, closed construction sites, and cleared parks of objects that could be damaged or become airborne.
An emergency operations center will be opened at the , and can be reached at 860-523-5203. It will be staffed by personnel prepared to answer storm-related questions. , who has experience dealing with natural disasters in New Orleans and Texas, is managing the emergency operations effort.
The is West Hartford’s primary emergency shelter, and is already equipped with a generator as well as cots and pillows. is a secondary shelter, and Van Winkle said that the town has rented a generator capable of powering the entire building. Fire stations are also equipped with generators, and will serve as shelters if necessary. Food supplies are on hand at all the shelters.
“We also have a list of people who require special assistance, like those on respirators who need generators,” said Van Winkle.
are not scheduled to open until Thursday, and although school closings are not anticipated, processes and procedures are in place to address any storm-related issues.
Van Winkle said that West Hartford is also planning to keep residents informed through the Everbridge Emergency Notification System, a reverse 9-1-1 system that can send messages to every landline in town. “It’s set up and ready to go,” said Van Winkle, and a test message may be sent out on Saturday informing residents about the system.
Van Winkle said it’s likely that many West Hartford residents will be without power for several days. Irene’s impact on Connecticut will likely be more severe than Hurricane Gloria or Bob, maybe as strong as the storms of 1938 or 1955.
“It’s a pretty serious storm, and by midnight Saturday we could already have rain and heavy wind,” said Van Winkle. Current predictions are for anywhere from 10-12 inches of rain locally, and more may fall in the northwest hills. “We’re on the windy – east – side of the storm,” said Van Winkle, who added that if the storm enters Connecticut in Stamford, winds in West Hartford could reach 100 mph.
"In 100 mph wind, we won't be out and able to get to you. Everyone should stay home in those conditions. We'll get out to help as soon as we can."
“This is still a long way out. Sometimes the storms weaken, and that’s what we’re praying for,” Van Winkle said.