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State waits for massive storm to strike

By Sally Voth

The state is as prepared as possible as it waits for Hurricane Sandy to make landfall.

"I think we're about as ready as we're going to be able to be," Virginia Department of Emergency Management coordinator Michael Cline said Saturday afternoon in a teleconference called by Gov. Bob McDonnell.

Cline said the Virginia Emergency Response Team has been preparing for the previous two days. Federal Emergency Management Agency workers are expected to be on the ground in Virginia on Saturday, McDonnell said, and state officials have been coordinating with the Coast Guard and other agencies.

"The entire state police [is] on standby at this point," McDonnell said.

Troopers are pre-positioned on the Eastern Shore, and the swift-water rescue team is ready in Hampton Roads, he said. Virginia National Guardsmen are also in position on the Eastern Shore, McDonnell said, and up to 500 could be called up.

This is going to be a storm of long duration, certainly longer than things we've seen before," McDonnell said.

He said he'd been updated Saturday morning by the National Weather Service.

"There's not been great changes in weather predictions," he said.

It still appears that Sandy would make landfall as a hurricane or a nor'easter sometime late Monday in and around Delaware Bay or farther north in New Jersey, according to McDonnell.

"What the weather service tells us is regardless of the exact track at this point, or the exact spot of landfall, that the wind and rain impacts of the storm are so extensive because the storm is so big that there's not likely going to be much difference in the predictions of what may occur in Virginia," he said.

McDonnell urged Virginians to prepare for the storm.

Sandy regained strength to a Category 1 hurricane with minimum winds of 75 mph as of Saturday afternoon, he said. A lingering cold front from the Midwest is expected to compound the situation and dump snow on the western portion of the state.

Residents on the Virginia coast and Eastern Shore could see wind gusts up to 70 mph Sunday and Monday, with speeds of abut 60 mph Monday going into Tuesday morning, according to the governor's report.

Further inland along the Interstate 95 corridor, peak gusts of 45-50 mph are expected, he said, as is rainfall of 4-5 inches. That rain could start light on Sunday and get heavier Monday and Tuesday.

Rainfall of 7-10 inches is possible right along the coast and Eastern Shore, McDonnell said. Minor to moderate flooding is expected in some of the coastal areas, he said, and more intensifying surf was evident Saturday in Virginia Beach.

"There's actually a potential for a low-water advisory on Tuesday and Wednesday," McDonnell said, explaining that is because the back side of the storm will be pushing water out of the bay and rivers.

Coming to the region right after Sandy are cold temperatures, McDonnell said. On Tuesday, the western part of the state can expect lows in the 30s, with the rest of Virginia seeing temperatures in the 40s, he said. Additionally, snow is expected in western and southwestern Virginia, according to the governor.

The Virginia Department of Forestry and the Virginia Department of Transportation are both ready to do road clean up, McDonnell said.

As he did on Friday, McDonnell exhorted residents to prepare for the possibility of protracted power outages caused by fallen trees.

"The thing that we ask residents once again are please prepare today," he said.

That means having plenty of food and water, a first-aid kit, a battery-powered radio, keeping phones charged, and the like.

"Please assemble all those today," McDonnell said. "It's vitally important because the conditions will start to deteriorate tomorrow afternoon and even earlier today [in] Hampton Roads."

He also asked Virginians to stay in touch with each other and "be good neighbors."

"I can't stress enough the need for citizens to stay posted to the media updates on these things, to have a transistor radio in case their power goes out, and again, to be prepared for the extraordinary circumstance of very, very cold weather and the fact people may be without power for a number of days," McDonnell said.

With sustained rains over the course of three or four days and strong wind gusts, "there are going to be trees coming down," McDonnell said.

"Many trees have full canopies, meaning they're going to be easier to blow down," he added.

VDOT operations centers are open statewide, Chief Deputy Commission Charles Fitzpatrick said.

"Throughout Virginia, our crews have been mobilized," he said. "We've been preparing for actually three different types of storms -- flooding, wind and, in the western part of the state, snow. We have our contractors on stand-by, especially our debris removal contractors and our tree clearing contractors."

Dominion Power has also made storm arrangements, according to McDonnell.

"Some 2,000 additional power employees from other states have been requested, and we hope will be able to help us in Virginia for prompt restoration of power," he said.

Contact staff writer Sally Voth at 540-465-5137 ext. 164, or svoth@nvdaily.com

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