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Officials Stress Preparedness As Jose Departs And Maria Bears Down On Caribbean

Published: September 20, 2017

Newtown should remain in the clear with no significant precipitation forecast through September 30, according to Weather Underground (WU), but weather watchers — especially those with family, friends, and property in the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico — are intently monitoring Hurricane Maria.

The Wednesday morning outlook on September 20 showed increasing confidence that Maria will reach St Croix and Puerto Rico later in the day with catastrophic results. Now that Maria has regained Category 5 intensity, there is nothing between the storm and these islands that would lead to a major drop in strength.

In fact, conditions are just about as favorable as they can be for sustaining a Category 5 hurricane, and it is not out of the question that Maria could become even stronger, WU stated.

A track crossing Puerto Rico from southeast to northwest will bring torrential rainfall and the risk of landslides to both northern- and southern-facing mountainsides. Localized rainfall of 25 inches or more is possible in Puerto Rico, with amounts of 20 inches possible in the United States and British Virgin Islands.

Rainbands sweeping into Maria from the south could also dump as much as 12 inches of rain on southern parts of the Dominican Republic, again posing a threat of landslides.

With still-fresh memories of intense autumn storms in 2011 that ravaged Newtown, toppling hundreds of trees, cutting power to some homes for nearly a week, postponing the town’s 50th Anniversary Labor Day parade, and canceling Main Street trick or treating, local officials are reissuing storm-related reminders to residents through the town’s e-News delivery system and The Newtown Bee.

Preparedness Team Meets

The local Emergency Preparedness Team met on Monday morning, September 18. First Selectman Pat Llodra and representatives from Emergency Management, police, fire, public works, Parks and Recreation, and Newtown Public Schools participated in the meeting.

As the effect of Hurricane Jose continued to dissipate, bringing some rain and light wind gusts overnight Tuesday into Wednesday, officials remain concerned locally about other storms brewing.

The preparedness team continues to urge Newtown residents and businesses to pay attention to the weather and live prepared all year long. Preparedness Director Bill Halstead urges residents to seriously take inventory of their preparedness plans and supplies, and to subscribe to the following practices:

*Register with CodeRed to receive CodeRED alerts provided by the town. Those who include their cellphone number may receive text messages. Register at newtown-ct.gov or call 203-270-4370 for assistance;

*Register with Smart911 so a secure specific profile can be created for family members, pets, home details, etc. Do that at the link on the town website or, for those who do not have Internet  access, call Maureen Will at Newtown Emergency Communications (203-270-4296) for assistance;

*Subscribe to News and Announcements so you can receive info that is sent out to the community from the first selectman’s office. Sign up on the town website;

*Consider installing the state-launched CTPrepares mobile app on all your smartphones and tablet devices. The app, which can be downloaded free of charge from the Apple iTunes store and the Google Play store, provides Connecticut residents with information and alerts in emergency situations, and gives preparedness tips in advance of an emergency;

*Eversource customers can report a power outage and get updates through text messages. Customers must first register their mobile device online at eversource.com, or directly from their mobile phone by texting REG to 23129. To learn more about alerts and reporting, go to Eversource.com

Important numbers and contact information that should be kept handy:

*Always, if there is a life safety emergency, call 911;

*To report a power outage, call Eversource, 800-286-2000; and

*Connecticut’s free info and referral service: call 211 or visit 211ct.org

Secure property: Survey property and look for potential physical hazards. Bring outdoor furniture, decorations, signs, garbage cans inside; trim trees/branches; clear clogged gutters and yard drains.

Generators: Permanent generators should be installed by a licensed professional and with a permit issued by the Building Department.

Portable generators are useful but can be hazardous. They should only be used outdoors and away from doors, windows and vents. Never use portable generators inside homes, garages, basements, crawl spaces or partially enclosed spaces, even with ventilation. Be sure to operate in accordance with manufacturers’ instructions.

Preparedness is everyone’s responsibility. The town works to minimize effects of disasters through comprehensive mitigation, planning, training, and response.

Residents need to do their part, as they have the best understanding of their own property, and personal, physical, emotional and medical circumstances.

Maria’s Threat

As of 5:31 am Wednesday, September 20, all storm watches related to Jose had been canceled, although some coastal flooding on Long Island could occur during high tide Wednesday. Dangerous surf is also expected to cause some beach erosion. Little to no additional impacts from wind were anticipated at that time across southeast New York, northeast New Jersey, and southern Connecticut.

Along with the direct impacts likely in St Croix, Weather Underground says Maria could move far enough north for severe hurricane conditions to affect the other two US Virgin Islands — St Thomas and St. John — and perhaps the British Virgin Islands as well.

All of these except for St Croix took a fierce hit from Hurricane Irma just weeks ago, so even a lesser blow from Maria could have outsized consequences to residents and structures left vulnerable in the wake of Irma.

Storm surge could bring worst-case inundation levels of 6 to 9 feet over parts of Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands.

Only one Category 5 hurricane has hit Puerto Rico in recorded history: the 1928 San Felipe Segundo hurricane, which killed 328 people on the island and caused catastrophic damage. This is one of only four Category 5 hurricanes ever to hit the United States (the others: Hurricane Andrew of 1992 in South Florida, Hurricane Camille of 1969 in Mississippi, and the Labor Day Hurricane of 1935 in the Florida Keys).

Stamford-based Americares emergency teams are currently on standby, ready to be deployed to Puerto Rico and the Caribbean. The health-focused relief and development organization is working with the Puerto Rico Department of Health to stock emergency shelters in San Juan with medical equipment and supplies.

At the same time, Americares relief workers continue to assist the Hurricane Irma relief efforts in the Caribbean and south Florida, as well as provide assistance to communities in southeast Texas recovering from Hurricane Harvey. To date, Americares has provided $5 million in aid for survivors of the recent storms, including emergency medicine, bottled water, relief supplies and emergency funding for health facilities.

Donations to Americares Hurricane Emergency Relief Fund will support its response. The organization’s website notes “For every $10 you donate today, we can provide $200 in aid — that’s the power of giving to Americares.” To make a donation, visit americares.org

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