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Posted October 26, 2012 | 8 Comments
Governor declares state of emergency
By Sally Voth
If you aren't yet prepared for the potentially disastrous collision between Hurricane Sandy and a cold front from the Midwest, time is running out.
Gov. Bob McDonnell on Friday afternoon urged Virginians to stock up on food, water and batteries, and to determine how to communicate with relatives if cell phone service is disrupted.
The governor and several state officials spoke at a 3 p.m. press conference/teleconference. He'd declared a state of emergency earlier on Friday.
"This is still an unpredictable weather event, but one that is a possibly very dangerous weather event for the commonwealth of Virginia," McDonnell said. "At this point, the main message to the people of Virginia is to be prepared."
In a Friday phone interview, National Weather Service meteorologist Heather Sheffield said that two systems -- Hurricane Sandy, currently a Category 1 storm over the northern Bahamas, and a cold front from the Midwest -- could impact the region.
The AP is reporting that Sandy has proven deadly in the Caribbean, leaving at least 20 people dead.
Sandy is forecast to track northwest after passing Cape Hatteras in the Outer Banks on Sunday night and make landfall in the northern Mid-Atlantic. That is expected to bring 5-10 inches of rain, mainly in the Dulles area and points to the north and east, Sheffield said.
"I would say that flooding is still an impact that your area could see with heavy rainfall," she said. "It's dependent on the track of the storm."
If Sandy heads more to the south, the northern valley could see more rain, according to Sheffield. Flooding would be less of a threat if it goes further north, though, she said.
Compounding the situation is a cold front moving in from the Midwest, Sheffield said. She said the front is expected to arrive in Virginia Saturday and stick around, causing a drop in temperatures, as well as snow in higher elevations.
The National Weather Service's website said elevations above 1,500 feet in the Potomac Highlands of eastern West Virginia and the Northern Shenandoah Valley and in western Maryland could see snow accumulation Tuesday and Wednesday.
McDonnell said coastal areas of the state could be affected by Sandy as early as Saturday morning.
"This is going to be a long-standing weather event with wind and flooding and heavy rain, and, very uniquely, followed by cold," he said.
The western part of the state is under a threat of heavy snow, McDonnell said.
The governor said meteorologists would have a better grasp of where Sandy is likely to hit in the next 24-48 hours. Regardless of where it hits, he said, the National Weather Service has advised to expect a three or four day event.
"We're expecting winds to be tropical force winds throughout a good portion of eastern Virginia," McDonnell said.
They could be 40-50 mph in central Virginia as far west as Charlottesville, and gusts could be has high as 60-80 mph along the coast and Eastern Shore, he said. Flooding is also expected.
With rain and high winds and a significant number of leaves still on trees, power outages and downed lines provide the main threat, McDonnell said.
He has activated 70-80 members of the Virginia National Guard to be stationed along the Eastern Shore and Hampton Roads areas to help with debris removal and evacuation of people caught in high water, and has also called up additional state police.
The state police swift water rescue team is on standby, the Virginia Department of Forestry has chain saw crews in place and the state emergency operations center in Richmond is up and running, according to the governor. Additionally, the state health department has been coordinating with hospitals and nursing homes about emergency backup plans, he said.
"The military has made plans to deploy ships in Hampton Roads already," McDonnell said.
McDonnell advised residents to stay tuned to TV and radio reports as long as the power is on to stay updated on Sandy's track, find out where local shelters will be set up, have a plan to communicate with loved ones in case cell phone service goes down, have extra batteries and at least one battery-powered radio, and have a sustained supply of food and water.
"Shopping now -- today, tomorrow -- to be ready for the event is absolutely critical to be sure you've got what you need," he said.
But, come Sunday, residents are urged to avoid unnecessary travel.
"Stay home," McDonnell said. "It just doesn't make sense to go out and risk coming across debris or a downed power line."
Department of Emergency Management coordinator Michael Cline said the Virginia Emergency Response Team, made up of about 20 state response agencies, volunteer partners and private sector partners, had been coordinating over the past two days. There are plans to pull in resources from other states if needed, he said.
Cline, too, urged residents to act now.
"We want people to be prepared," he said. "We've got a short window here. You probably have until tomorrow about this time or a little bit later to make your preparations."
Dominion Power Vice President-Electric Operations Rodney Blevins added a safety suggestion.
"I would suggest having a conversation with your children and your loved ones about staying away from downed power lines before you run into them after this event occurs," he said. "We will work around the clock when the lights start going out to secure service."
A Romney campaign event in Virginia Beach was canceled, according to the governor.
"I appreciate their decision to cancel their events in Hampton Roads," he said. "[Officials] are obviously concerned about making sure we're ready for Election Day."
Besides hospitals and schools, ballot locations are a priority when it comes to restoring power, McDonnell said.
Contact staff writer Sally Voth at 540-465-5137 ext. 164, or firstname.lastname@example.org