Officials in the state and across the region have begun to declare states of emergency Saturday afternoon in anticipation of an onslaught by Hurricane Sandy starting Sunday evening.
Gov. Dannel P. Malloy declared a state of emergency that gives him broader powers to run the state, and in next-door Fairfield, First Selectman Michael Tetreau has ordered evacuation of the shoreline neighborhoods at noon Sunday.
In signing the Declaration of Emergency, Malloy has a number of emergency powers, including the ability to modify or suspend any state statute, regulation, or requirement (for example: altering work hours, waiving licensing requirements, etc.), the ability to order civil preparedness forces into action and the ability to designate vehicle and person routes and movements.
"The forecast path of Hurricane Sandy has convinced me that the signing of this declaration is necessary, and will help us react more quickly and effectively in the event of a serious weather event," said Governor Malloy. "This storm needs to be taken seriously and just as the state is taking preparatory actions, I encourage the public and all of the state's utility companies to do the same"
In Westport, First Selectman Gordon Joseloff had said earlier in the week the town's emergency preparedness team has mapped a response to the storm. The plan included input from representatives of police, fire, Human Services, the Westport-Weston Health District, and the American Red Cross. Additional discussions were held with Public Works and Parks and Recreation directors.
Westport also participated in a National Weather Service regional briefing about the storm and its possible track and impact.
"We can away with the impression that Westport will definitely be impacted, but at this point we do not know how severely," Joseloff said. "At one point, it was mentioned this storm could be as severe as the 1992 nor'easter that flooded many low-lying Westport areas."
Joseloff said preparations include checking emergency equipment, including boats for possible rescue use, topping off generators, and clearing debris from rivers, streams, and drains.
He said owners are urged to remove boats this weekend from marinas and to store or tie down any outdoor furniture and fittings.
In addition, he urged homeowners to take the usual storm precautions of storing extra water, canned food, batteries, and medications as well as other necessities. A special link to flood information has been established: www.westportct.gov/floodinformation
The town will open its emergency operations center and use CodeRed, the Internet, and Staples FM radio station -- WWPT, 90.3 -- to offer emergency updates to residents, Joseloff said.
Meanwhile, Fairfield ordered a mandatory evacuation of the beach area beginning at noon Sunday. In Fairfield, An emergency shelter will open at Ludlowe High School at noon Sunday for people and pets. "We need to complete evacuations before nightfall when wind and rain begin to strengthen. Be prepared to stay away from the area for several days," Tetreau said.
Metro-North is also making preparations for the storm and may suspend service beginning at 7 p.m. Sunday.
In a statement from New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, a final decision on suspending service will be made Sunday.
People across the state are already taking action -- by preparing.
A Home Depot employee leaned against a cart holding a generator and looked out at the anxious group of seven or eight shoppers gathered in front of her near the customer service desk of the Stratford store Friday afternoon.
"This is the last one -- just sold it," she said.
John Wilson, a 46-year-old Shelton resident, sighed and asked if the store would be getting any more generators by the time the storm -- a possibly monstrous mix of winter weather that's moving across the country, a frigid cold front coming down from Canada, and Hurricane Sandy, moving up from the tropics -- arrives. A manager at the Barnum Avenue store said she isn't sure whether any more generators will be brought in.
"I guess I'll have to keep looking," Wilson said, moving toward a table labeled "Storm Center," to pick up a few packages of batteries.
Wilson is like many residents of southwestern Connecticut who lived for days without power during last year's two major storms, Tropical Storm Irene in August and the freak October nor'easter near Halloween. And he said he doesn't want to go through that again, so his search for a generator will continue.
Hurricane Sandy -- upgraded again Saturday just hours after forecasters said it had weakened to a tropical storm -- swirled up the Eastern seaboard Friday, heading toward North Carolina. Forecasters said the storm will then take a turn to the Northeast, before likely making an unprecedented swoop back to the Northwest and toward the Mid-Atlantic.
The National Weather Service has issued a coastal flood watch for the Connecticut shoreline from Sunday evening through Tuesday. Major beach erosion and widespread is possible along the southwestern Connecticut coast. High tides on Monday and Tuesday will occur mid to late morning.
Experts said the storm could be wider and stronger than Irene, which caused more than $15 billion in damage, and could rival the worst East Coast storm on record. On Saturday morning, forecasters said hurricane-force winds of 75 mph could be felt 100 miles away from the storm's center.
The storm killed 40 people in the Caribbean before taking aim at the U.S.
WTNH Storm Team 8 forecasters said rain will begin Sunday night, with the heaviest rain between Monday and Tuesday. The worst of the winds will be at that time, and will hit at tropical storm force.
"The severity of the storm will depend on its exact track," meteorologist Quincy Vagell said. "Sandy is forecast to cause heavy rains, coastal flooding and strong winds along its path."
The potentially 36-hour weather event could bring 40 mph winds and 7 to 14 inches of rain to the state. The storm is striking along with a full moon and astronomical high tide, leading to a greater risk of coastal flooding.
WTNH meteorologist Steve McLaughlin said the storm will be in two phases, the first will be the tropical storm and the second a nor'easter, that won't bring snow, but will bring more rain and wind.
State and local officials spent Friday continuing to prepare for the storm's arrival.
Gov. Dannel P. Malloy told state residents to charge cellphones, locate flashlights and fill gas tanks.
Malloy will partially activated the state Emergency Operations Center Saturday morning. The governor will give an update on the storm preparation at 2 p.m. today at the EOC in Hartford.
After a briefing with electric, telephone and cable TV executives on Friday, Malloy said he's confident that the state is better prepared to react to the potentially crippling effects of storms and high winds than it was a year ago.
"Connecticut residents are resilient and understanding," Malloy said. "They know that when a major storm hits, there's every likelihood that there will be some significant problems including, but not limited to, the loss of power, flooding and transportation issues. That's simply what happens when Mother Nature decides to strike."
Electric utility executives, who were demonized and chastised last year for late responses to both major storms told reporters in a joint news conference with Malloy that they are much better prepared than last year.
William Quinlan, senior vice president of emergency preparedness for the Connecticut Light & Power Co., said that arrangements are being made for out-of-state support for line repair and tree removal.
Two thousand line repair personnel will be in the state by Sunday, joining 400 company line workers, he said, adding that the company has requested 1,000 tree workers.
Crews from as far away as the Midwest were on the road already for arrival before the storm hits and will be brought to staging areas, he said, including the Fairfield Hills site in Newtown. One of the big changes will be an increase in communication between the utility and local officials. The company invested $60 million this year in tree trimming and removal to provide clearance for overhead power lines.
John J. Prete, senior vice president at the United Illuminating Co., which serves the Bridgeport and New Haven areas, said the company is prepared for an "Irene-like" event, except the hurricane could well be three times longer than the 12-hour tropical storm of August 2011.
Parts of the state were without power last year for more than 10 days following the October snowstorm, resulting in harsh criticism from residents, lawmakers and Malloy against Connecticut Light & Power, whose customers were hit the hardest. Jeffrey Butler, president and CEO of CL&P, resigned under the public backlash.
Both the Legislature and an investigative panel named by Malloy reviewed the preparedness and reactions of utilities. New laws holding utilities more responsible were passed and CL&P announced a major infrastructure program.
In July, a four-day training exercise prepared local and state officials for the eventuality of another major storm.
"While we don't know what kind of conditions we will be confronting, we are in a better position to confront them nonetheless," Malloy said. "I think that everyone has learned lessons from the last storm and they certainly understand the implications statutorily of their need to recover."
Norwalk officials were urging shoreline residents to make arrangements to evacuate their homes and move their vehicles to higher ground. The city will open an emergency shelter at Brien McMahon High School at 5 p.m. Sunday and cars will be allowed to park for free in the city's Maritime garage.
In Bridgeport, Mayor Bill Finch continued to meet with other city officials to prepare for the storm and activated the city's Emergency Operations Center Friday night.
Milford, with the state's longest coastline, is "hoping for the best, but preparing for the worst," Mayor Ben Blake said.
"Our biggest concern is coastal flooding," Interim Fire Chief Robert Healey said. "The city is well prepared."
Blake said the city would know by Monday whether evacuations would be necessary.
Fairfield officials have been monitoring the storm's track.
"We anticipate it will have serious effects on town services and response by emergency personnel, especially in coastal areas," Police Chief Gary MacNamara said.
Deputy Fire Chief Art Reid said, "If it's a direct hit, it could be very similar to (Tropical Storm) Irene, but it's still a day or two too early to call that.
The storm could be life-threatening for boaters and damaging to their docked boats, forecasters said. Police marine unit officers are advising boat owners to remove their vessels from the marina and to tie down any small watercraft, such as kayaks and sailboats.
Up and down the coast, people were cautioned to be prepared for days without electricity. Jersey Shore beach towns began issuing voluntary evacuations and protecting boardwalks. Atlantic City casinos made contingency plans to close, and officials advised residents of flood-prone areas to stay with family or be ready to leave. Several governors declared states of emergency. Airlines said to expect cancellations and waived change fees for passengers who want to reschedule.
New York City began precautions for an ominous but still uncertain forecast. No decision had been made on whether any of the city's public transportation outlets would be shut, despite predictions that a sudden shift of the storm's path could cause a surge of 3 to 6 feet in the subways.
The subway system was completely shuttered during Irene, the first such shutdown ever for weather-related reasons. Irene largely missed the city, but struck other areas hard.
Friday's sunny skies and balmy temperatures made it a good day for a boat ride. But instead of taking his boat for a spin, Rich Vogt was pulling it out of the water for the season at the South Benson Marina in Fairfield.
"I pulled it out a little earlier than usual," Vogt said because of the storm scheduled to blow into the region late Sunday.
"I'd rather be safe than sorry," Vogt said.
Jeff Masters, meteorology director of the forecasting service Weather Underground, said this could be as big, perhaps bigger, than the worst East Coast storm on record, a 1938 New England hurricane that is sometimes known as the Long Island Express, which killed nearly 800 people.
The Asssociated Press contributed to this report.