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Communities prepare as Hurricane Sandy approaches

Store manager L.P. Cyburt boards up the windows of the business as Hurricane Sandy approaches in Ocean City, Md., on Saturday, Oct. 27, 2012. Hurricane Sandy upgraded again Saturday just hours after forecasters said it had weakened to a tropical storm was barreling north from the Caribbean and was expected to make landfall early Tuesday near the Delaware coast, then hit two winter weather systems as it moves inland, creating a hybrid monster storm. (AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana)

Store manager L.P. Cyburt boards up the windows of the business as Hurricane Sandy approaches in Ocean City, Md., on Saturday, Oct. 27, 2012. Hurricane Sandy upgraded again Saturday just hours after forecasters said it had weakened to a tropical storm was barreling north from the Caribbean and was expected to make landfall early Tuesday near the Delaware coast, then hit two winter weather systems as it moves inland, creating a hybrid monster storm. (AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana) Purchase photo reprints »

Large amounts of rain and high winds associated with Hurricane Sandy could lead to widespread power outages and flooding throughout the Pioneer Valley.

Local Department of Public Works and Highway Departments are working to ensure back-up sources of power stay intact and that the likelihood of destructive washouts is minimized.

“We’re getting prepared just in case,” said Edward “Ned” Huntley, director of the Northampton DPW.

The initial goal is to have a sufficient fuel supply for powering emergency generators, he said.

“Right now, the DPW is ensuring deliveries of diesel and gas and ready for prolonged outages, if we have one,” Huntley said.

The DPW barn, the wastewater and water treatment plants and sewer pump stations all gave generators and additional portable generators will also be available.

Huntley said the city won’t know until Sunday, at the earliest, the projected severity and whether flood control walls will go up on Route 66 on the Mill River below Paradise Pond and two additional locations near the Connecticut River, including near the Northampton bowling arena.

“There definitely could be a flooding event like with Hurricane Irene,” said Huntley, referencing the August 2011 storm that brought large amounts of rain to the area.

While a repeat of last year’s Halloween snowstorm is unlikely, when heavy wet snow brought down trees and limbs, trees could still be toppled through a combination of high wind and saturated ground.

Huntley is asking residents to make sure the catch basins and storm drains near their homes are clear of debris, to stay away from downed power lines and help neighbors out. Public safety dispatch can be called anytime at 587-1100.

Amherst Town Manager John Musante said the DPW has been working for several days getting leaves away from storm drains.

The DPW will be ready to close off streets that are prone to flooding, including East Hadley Road, Station Road, Pelham Road and East Leverett Road near the town lines.

The town invested in a new generator to power Town Hall, but Musante said this will not be installed another eight to 10 weeks. In the meantime, the town will make do with a smaller, mobile generator.

Initially the plan is to get messages posted to the town website with information from the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency.

“It will be a combination of where to locate the information and links to MEMA,” Musante said.

He said he’d like to see more people register their home phones and cellphones as a means of staying in touch when emergency alerts go out.

Musante said he has contacted University of Massachusetts, Amherst College and Hampshire College officials to apprise them of the town’s efforts.

Easthampton Fire Department has begun a Facebook page which will have regular updates about the track of the storm, preparations and what residents can do.

“We will be sharing information and will be updating it if a shelter opens and if there is somewhere for people to get a hot meal,” said Fire Chief David Mottor, who also serves as the town’s emergency management director.

Mottor, Police Chief Bruce McMahon and Mayor Michael Tautznik are participating in twice daily MEMA conference calls. On Friday afternoon, they were told the storm will likely be entirely rainfall, with some 50 to 60 mile--erhour wind gusts associated with it.

Mottor said police and fire departments will have additional staffing, and the DPW is going through its pre-storm checklist, including clearing storm drains and determining whether Nashawannuck Pond will need to be lowered.

In Hadley, generators are on standby and chainsaws are ready in case trees fall across roads and need to be removed.

Belchertown DPW Director Steven Williams was scheduled to participate in an emergency planning meeting Friday afternoon to get more information about how the storm will be handled. “We’re always prepared at some level,” Williams said.

In a smaller town like Leverett, Highway Department workers have been using leaf blowers to clear out ditches and the catch basins, especially along the many gravel roads that are susceptible to washouts, said Superintendent William Stratford.

“We don’t want the storm drains to plug up,” Stratford said.

One Leverett emergency meeting ocurred Friday morning. Stratford expects to convene with emergency personnel again Sunday and has already ensured that a tree company will be ready should many fall down.

Stratford said town officials are aiming to have the elementary school become a shelter, like last year, if there is extended period without power.

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NORTHAMPTON — State regulators are expected to rule soon on year-long investigations into the performance of utility companies during the October 2011 snowstorm that crippled the region. Decisions by the state Department of Public Utilities on how Western Massachusetts Electric Co., National Grid and NSTAR planned for and responded to the storm and the massive, prolonged power outages that ensued …

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