PORTLAND — Barely a year after Tropical Storm Irene roared through northern New England, cutting off entire communities in Vermont and leaving thousands of people displaced, residents braced again for more heavy rains, high winds and widespread power outages from another massive storm approaching the region.
Hurricane Sandy, headed north from the Caribbean, is expected to collide with a wintry storm moving in from the west and cold air streaming down from the Arctic. The resulting megastorm is expected to arrive in Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont on Monday, with sustained winds of 30-40 mph and gusts of 50-60 mph and higher.
Homeowners and business owners in Waterbury, Vt., were hopeful the megastorm wouldn’t be a repeat of Irene, the most devastating natural disaster in the state since flooding in 1927, said Municipal Manager Bill Shepeluk.
Waterbury residents have been on edge awaiting the latest storm with the devastation from Irene still fresh in their minds. It was just 14 months ago when the Winooski River overflowed its banks there, chasing scores from their homes, closing businesses and most of the state offices, and forcing the state’s hospital for the mentally ill to shut down.
“Clearly there has been a significant palpable level of anxiety among folks, especially those who were directly impacted last year,” said Shepeluk, who was finalizing municipal insurance claims from Irene on Sunday.
Across Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine, residents prepared Sunday for the massive storm approaching the region.
The region will get 1 to 3 inches of rain on Monday and Tuesday, with some areas getting 4 to 5 inches, said National Weather Service meteorologist Margaret Curtis in Gray, Maine.
Seas were expected to build to 15 to 25 feet off southern Maine and New Hampshire, and coastal erosion is expected, she said.
Officials said there were concerns of downed trees and power lines, and the potential for flash flooding and coastal erosion. After the storm’s peak from Monday afternoon into Tuesday, the rain is expected to last for a couple more days, adding to the risk of flooding and high waters levels in streams and rivers.
Vermont was the hardest hit of the three states when Irene rumbled through region in August 2011. About a dozen Vermont communities were cut off and thousands displaced after raging rivers destroyed bridges and roads.
Gov. Peter Shumlin declared a state of emergency Sunday ahead of the storm’s arrival to give Vermont access to National Guard troops and federal emergency response funds if needed.
To prepare for the latest storm in Waterbury, culverts and storm drainage basins have been cleared of debris, lagoons have been lowered at the wastewater treatment plant and stand-by generators are ready.
Residents were feeling a bit better Sunday with lowered rainfall predictions, but there’s nothing much anybody can do if the Winooski River should happen to overflow, Shepeluk said.
“We’re just hoping it goes somewhere else,” he said about the oncoming storm.
Green Mountain Power, the state’s largest utility, said it had secured more than 250 additional line workers and tree trimmers to assist Green Mountain crews to restore power to customers. Utility line crews from Canada were scheduled to arrive Sunday night, with others from as far away as Tennessee and Florida arriving in the overnight hours and into Monday.
Maine Gov. Paul LePage signed a limited emergency declaration Friday allowing power crews from other states and Canada to help with power restoration and waiving federal rules to extend the hours of service that repair crews can work.
In New Hampshire, Ann Romney, the wife of Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney, canceled speaking engagements in Derry and Manchester due to the storm. The Romney campaign said the campaign bus would be used for relief efforts throughout the East. Also, Vice President Joe Biden canceled a scheduled stop in Keene on Monday because of the storm.
Gov. John Lynch ordered the National Guard on Sunday to put 100 soldiers on state active duty by Monday morning to be prepared to assist with emergency response.