By Paul Schott

A state of emergency has been declared in Westport as of Saturday evening as officials and residents prepare for an onslaught from Hurricane Sandy starting by Sunday night.

First Selectman Gordon Joseloff, after conferring with Fire Chief Andrew Kingsbury, the town's emergency management director, declared the civil-preparedness emergency at 5 p.m.

The declaration empowers the first selectman to take various actions. They include:

- Recommending partial or full evacuations from specific areas of town.

- Imposing travel and parking restrictions.

- Removing debris or wreckage from public or private land or water.

- Requesting state or federal assistance and financial aid.

- Invoking emergency assistance agreements with private entities.

- Activating emergency-related mutual aid agreements with other municipalities or government agencies.

"Under the authority granted by this decree," Joseloff said to residents via a CodeRed message, "I am tonight strongly recommending shoreline Westport residents in flood-prone areas evacuate their homes on Sunday before nightfall.

"You may move vehicles to higher ground to either the commuter lot just off the northbound I-95 Exit 17 or the Franklin Street lot," he said.

The town will open an emergency shelter for those displaced by the storm at 3 p.m. Sunday in Long Lots School on Hyde Lane. Pets also can be brought to the shelter accompanied by owners.

During the last 24 hours, town emergency management officials have ramped up the town's preparations for the hurricane.

At Compo Beach, bulldozers manned by a crew from the Westport-based general contracting firm Kowalsky Bros. spent Saturday afternoon piling sand into 10-foot mounds.

By Sunday -- when Sandy is expected to begin buffeting the region by nightfall -- that bulwark is planned to extend more than a half-mile from the beach's cannons to the intersection of Soundview Drive and Compo Beach and Hillspoint Road.

"It's not going to prevent all the water from going through, but the brunt of the impact is going to be on this wall," said Deputy Police Chief Foti Koskinas. "The pavilion, Joey's [by the Shore restaurant], the playground, the lifeguard shack -- all of that is going to be protected."

In the low-lying Saugatuck Shores -- a section of town that suffered major flooding last year during Tropical Storm Irene -- many residents were busy Saturday preparing their homes for the storm.

At Rabia de Lande Long's Harbor Road house workers boarded up the front and side windows and bulwarked the driveway with a row of sandbags

"It may be a little extreme, but better safe than sorry," de Lande Long said.

She added that she plans to evacuate before the full force of the hurricane strikes.

Other Saugatuck Shores residents were undecided about whether they would leave their homes.

It'll depend on how things develop," said Lincoln Weekes, who lives on Canal Road. "That will be a last-minute decision. Down here you always have to be worried. We're not overly concerned, but you always have to be prepared, given where you are."

Down the road, a group of Saugatuck Island residents strolled together to check in on neighbors' pre-storm preparations. Each person in that group of five announced his or her intention to ride out the storm at home.

"We had no idea last year what to expect last year because it was just out of the blue," said Tony Sousa, one of the Saugatuck Island residents. "This year, I feel more prepared."

Those pre-emptive actions by Sousa and his neighbors included moving belongings from the ground floor upstairs, parking their cars at the Saugatuck Metro-North Railroad Station's lot and stocking up on bottled water, wood and other essential items.

"And we stocked up on beer, so we're pretty set there," Sousa added. "I'm kind of hoping that it veers off and that we just end up with a lot of wind and rain. I'm cautiously optimistic."