From staff reports
CHARLES TOWN – As forecasters with the National Weather Service warn of high winds, heavy rain and the possibility of widespread power outages here starting late Monday, residents are heading to supermarkets and hardware stores to get ready for the worst.
“There’s still a lot of uncertainty about what Eastern West Virginia is in for – a lot depends on where the storm makes landfall,” Jared Klein of the National Weather Service in Sterling, Va., explained in an interview Friday.
What is now Hurricane Sandy will be downgraded to a tropical storm and could hit the East Coast as far south as the North Carolina-Virginia border, Klein said, or as far north at Long Island, N.Y. Weather forecasters will know more by Saturday, he said.
In the Charles Town area, residents are in for a “slow-moving, long-lasting storm,” Klein said, with “heavy rain, the potential for river and flash flooding and winds at less than tropical storm-force but still gusting up to 20 to 30 miles per hour.”
At the Home Depot store in Ranson, the store’s stock of backup generators had been depleted by 9:30 Friday morning and many customers instead were buying kerosene room heaters instead. Supermarkets in the area also were busy as residents sought foods they could prepare even if their homes lost power.
Home Depot customer Melinda Blye said she learned hard lessons when the derecho wind storm in late June left her Inwood home without power for four days. “I don’t want to be unprepared this time,” she said as she put a generator in her shopping cart. “I came out on my lunch hour.”
The derecho storm that hit the East Coast the last week of June left more than a million West Virginia residents without power, some of them for up to a week.
Blye, who works as a property manager in Charles Town, also said she hopes to pre-book a hotel in case her home lost power. She’d also called family members to urge them to prepare for the worst.
In Jefferson County, emergency preparedness officials were working to get out advice. “I cannot tell you what Hurricane Sandy will do at this point,” said Barbara Miller, Jefferson County Homeland Security and Emergency Management’s director. “But I can tell you that I will take advantage of this storm system to ask our residents to get prepared for this storm and the winter ahead. Preparedness includes preparing your family, your pets, your home and your vehicles to take on the winter months ahead.”
Miller said that every family should have enough food, water and supplies on hand for themselves and their pets for at least a week. “Food in your family disaster supply kit should be non-perishable items that need neither cooking or refrigeration in case the power goes out,” Miller said.
Additional items for a basic disaster kit includes:
• Battery-powered or hand crank radio and a NOAA Weather Radio with tone alert and extra batteries for both
• Flashlight and extra batteries
• First aid kit
• Whistle to signal for help
• Dust mask to help filter contaminated air and plastic sheeting and duct tape to shelter-in-place
• Moist towelettes, garbage bags and plastic ties for personal sanitation
• Wrench or pliers to turn off utilities
• Manual can opener for food
• Local maps
• Cell phone with chargers, inverter or solar charger
• Fill your vehicle’s gas tank prior to the storm.
“Every family should also have a family disaster plan of how they will communicate during disasters and what they will do or where they will go if they cannot go to or stay at home. A template to make your family disaster plan can be found on the Jefferson County Homeland Security and Emergency Management Website at http://www.jeffersoncountywv.org/uploads/homeland/Forms/Creating%20a%20Family%20Disaster%20Plan%20Template.pdf
“And, residents need to stay alert and informed of weather conditions in their area. The best way to do that is with a NOAA weather radio. If you have a NOAA weather radio or if you have signed up to get alerts from either the National Weather Service or your favorite weather station on your smartphone or tablet, you will get weather watches, warnings and advisories as soon as they are issued.
“The Emergency Alert Station for Jefferson County is WEPM Radio, AM 1340, although JCHSEM sends Emergency Public Information to all local radio stations and to WHAG-TV, the County Government TV Channel (Channel 17), the Jefferson County Schools Channel (Channel 18) and all of the local newspapers. Additionally, we post our emergency public information on our Jefferson County Homeland Security and Emergency Management Facebook Page and our webpage. Some local blogs and websites also receive or repost our information onto their sites. Recently, JCHSEM has added NIXLE to our Emergency Public Information Toolbox. NIXLE is a text messaging alert system. This is new to us and we will be using this during our next Emergency Operations Center (EOC) activation, whenever that occurs. Residents wishing to receive JCHSEM notifications can go to www.nixle.com and set up a free user account with NIXLE to receive notifications, or they can text their zipcode to 888777 to get started.
“We are dealing with a very complicated weather system this time. We could be looking at a variety of threats including hurricane remnants, wind, rain, and even a possibility of snow in the higher elevations. As the storm gets closer, the National Weather Service will be able to predict what exactly we will be dealing with. As with all storms, there is a risk of power outages. To report a power outage during a storm, call Potomac Edison/First Energy at 1-888-LIGHTSS, and for all emergencies, call 9-1-1.”