Massachusetts will start to feel Sandy’s fury late Sunday night; governor declares state of emergency

As Hurricane Sandy loomed closer to the northeast coast Saturday afternoon, Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick declared a state of emergency in preparation for power outages, coastal flooding, and beach erosion that could rock the New England region.

The Bay State will begin feeling the hurricane’s effects Sunday evening, said National Weather Service meteorologist Kim Buttrick, but not its full force until Monday.

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Winds will start blowing 35 to 45 miles per hour Monday in Massachusetts, with gusts up to 55 mph in the morning that will accelerate in the afternoon reaching a peak of 65 miles per hour. Higher-than-average winds and precipitation will continue until Tuesday morning, Buttrick said.

Saturday evening, the storm remained a Category 1 hovering 340 miles off the Outer Banks in North Carolina. As it passed over Haiti, Jamaica, Cuba, and the Bahamas it claimed the lives of at least 58 people, in addition to damaging or destroying thousands of homes. Category 1 is the least severe ranking of a hurricane with winds averaging 74 to 95 miles per hour.

Buttrick said the storm’s center is expected to arrive on the southern New Jersey coast during the day Sunday, and beachfront residents in nearby Delaware have been ordered to evacuate their homes. But the storm’s large size — 500 to 700 miles in diameter, Buttrick said — means Massachusetts residents will still bear some of its brunt.

“Hurricane or not, whatever it is, when it hits us, it’s going to be a storm of great impact and magnitude,” Buttrick said.

Boston-area residents can expect 1 to 2 inches of precipitation, though commuties in the Berkshires could see up to 5 inches. The storm remains unpredictable because it is set to collide with a dipping jet stream as well as a strong high pressure system moving south from eastern Canada, Buttrick said, but that is not certain. The potential combination of forces has prompted some to dub the hurricane “Frankenstorm.” That is not a term the National Weather Service endorses, Buttrick said, but the mix of weather systems means that this hurricane is one to watch out for.

“All these ingredients coming together—it’s history-making,” she said.

At an afternoon press conference in Framingham, Patrick said 200 members of the National Guard have already been mobilized in Massachusetts. That number will ramp up to 1,000 or more by Monday.

Patrick said he planned to submit a preemptive request to President Barack Obama for a disaster declaration, just as he did before last year’s Hurricane Irene. The disaster declaration will help the state receive direct federal assistance in the aftermath of the storm.

“While we continue to hope for the best, we’re preparing for the worst,” Patrick said.

NStar spokesman Michael Durand said the company has beefed up its ranks of community liaisons and support staff to 92 people. These individuals will be assigned to specific communities where they will serve as a primary point-persons for emergency responders and local leaders, who will be able to report downed wires and outages in real time through a Web-based reporting tool.

“These liaisons will be available to communities 24-7, working throughout the day and night,” Durand said, adding that the liaisons will be stationed in facilities close to the communities they cover. “These communities will have a dedicated person to speak with to resolve issues.”

The Federal Emergency Management Agency has deployed assistance teams up and down the East Coast, and the agency is amassing supplies such as food, water, blankets at bases along the northeast coast that may be needed during the recovery.

In Boston, public safety agencies have ramped up staff to respond to problems during the duration of the storm, according to a statement from the Mayor Thomas M. Menino’s office.

“The City is being proactive in preparing for expected heavy rain and very strong winds, and we’re urging residents to do the same,” Menino said in a statement Saturday.

Menino encouraged residents to register at www.cityofboston.gov/alertboston to get live emergency notifications.

“The city of Boston has been gearing up for this for several days,” said Boston Police superintendent William Evans. “Based on past storms, our main concerns are power wires coming down and trees blocking roads.”

Boston public school officials are also being included in preparations, Evans said, adding that there is a possibility that school may be canceled, especially if buses are unable to complete their routes because of downed trees.

According to the National Weather Service, Sunday will have with highs in the the mid- and upper 50s, and winds of 10 to 20 miles per hour, Buttrick said. Rain is expected to start in the evening.

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