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Amherst declares state of emergency; residents urged to stay home

“Hunker down, ride out the storm and be safe,” said Town Manager John Musante, who at 8:30 a.m. declared a state of emergency in anticipation of the arrival of the sustained winds and rain from the storm.

Musante also directed all municipal offices to close at noon and for all non-essential personnel to go home before the weather deteriorates.

He is allowing Craig’s Doors, the agency hired to run the homeless shelter at the First Baptist Church, to open today at 5 p.m. The 22 beds will be available tonight, even though the shelter had not expected to open until Nov. 1.

A reverse 911 is being sent to the 8,400 residents whose landline phones and cellphones are in the municipal database. The call will direct people to resources for more information, including the town and the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency websites.

“You can expect additional announcements from the town throughout the afternoon and into the night,” Musante said.

The emergency operations center, based at the police station, will start up at 2 p.m. “That will be open as long as we need it to be for this weather event,” Musante said.

No emergency shelter is expected to open in Amherst, however, those in need are being directed to the regional shelter at Smith Vocational and Agricultural School in Northampton. Generators are functioning at the elementary schools, which could be temporary shelters under certain circumstances, he said.

Fire Chief Walter “Tim” Nelson said Hurricane Sandy is not similar to last October’s snowstorm when cold temperatures made staying in homes without power or sources of heat difficult.

He added that townspeople are likely to see fewer disruptions in power based on extensive work done by Western Massachusetts Electric Co. and the town to remove trees near power lines.

“The potential for that much damage is not as high as it was last year,” Nelson said.

The sustained winds are likely to cause more problems for the Berkshires and other communities at higher elevations. “We’re in a good place geographically,” Nelson said.

Still, Nelson said if the power does go out, he hopes people will follow instructions on operating generators, including not keeping them indoors where they could cause carbon monoxide problems.

Musante said the town is in contact with utilities, which are expected to have additional crews on call.

The Department of Public Works is ready to clear any debris or trees that fall across roadways.

He said he appreciates the extensive planning done by the entire town management team, including police, fire, schools, facilities, health, information technology and public works.

“I think our team has been actively planning our appropriate responses going back to the latter half of last week,” Musante said, “The bottom line is I think we’re ready to respond to the storm as needed.”

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