From preparing to open shelters to warning against storm-related price gougers, Bergen County officials said Friday they are ready if Hurricane Sandy pummels the region with high winds and heavy rains.
“Our planning assumptions now have been that we are going to be receiving a minimum of 4-5 inches of rain with 30-40 mile per hour winds,” Bergen County Emergency Management Director Lt. Dwane Razzetti said in an afternoon briefing. “It's definitely going to be uncomfortable and most likely going to be enough damage for a disaster declaration.”
Still, officials are preparing for a far worse scenario with 10 inches of rain and stronger winds, leading to major power outages, he added.
“We’re not going to know until much closer to the storm,” Razzetti told officials and reporters in a conference call. “There’s a great deal of potential variability in this storm.”
The county added radio communications equipment, heavy duty vehicles, fueling trucks and generators to assist local officials, he said. Extra county staffers will also be called in and floodgates have been checked.
“Worst case it’s going to be like Irene and the pre-Halloween storm,” he said.
Bergen County Executive Kathleen Donovan asked that United Water lower reservoir levels, but the company declined unless ordered by Gov. Chris Christie, she said.
Christie was reviewing the request, according to County Administrator Ed Trawinski.
United Water agreed to lower levels at the Lake Deforest reservoir, which feeds into the area, New York State Department of Environmental Conservation spokeswoman Emily DeSantis said. A company spokesman said New Jersey reservoirs would remain at current levels.
State officials activated the emergency operations center early Friday.
“We believe the governor will be declaring a state of emergency tomorrow,” Donovan said. “We are told that the entire state will be impacted not only from the state of emergency, but from the storm.”
Donovan cautioned that residents living in flood-prone areas should be prepared to evacuate, and officials were ready to open three shelters. Bergen Community College, Northern Valley Demarest High School and the Lyndhurst Senior Citizens Center would be used, if needed.
“We’re encouraging the special needs residents to get out of any low-lying areas ahead of time,” Donovan said.
Storm price gouging would not be tolerated, said County Police Chief and Public Safety Director Brian Higgins. Storm-related products cannot surpass a 10 percent price increase.
Social media will be a key way to keep towns and residents informed over the coming days, said Donovan's chief of staff Jeanne Baratta. The county has Facebook and Twitter pages.
“We found with the last storm using social media was a terrific way to get word out to the residents, to get word out to the municipalities,” Baratta said. “We're going to use it even more with this storm.”
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