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Preparedness for Hurricane Sandy is well under way

By Sally Voth

Many area residents and officials were taking Gov. Bob McDonnell's call to prepare for severe weather to heart on Friday.

McDonnell declared a state of emergency early in the day, and in an afternoon press conference/teleconference urged residents to stock up on food, water and batteries.

More than 1,000 Virginia Department of Transportation field resources have been mobilized, and will be fully deployed by Sunday, the department's chief deputy commissioner, Charles Fitzpatrick, said during the press conference.

"We're getting the crews ready," VDOT Edinburg Residency Administrator Cliff Balderson said in a Friday afternoon phone interview. "The dilemma -- I want to say we're always ready, but this time, we've got kind of like a double threat coming at us, because it could start as heavy winds and rains, and then switch to snow by the end of this event. The forecast is still iffy."

Crews made sure their chainsaws were sharpened in case they're needed for trees toppled by wind and rain, Balderson said. And, they are prepared to set up barricades to shut down any flooded roads.

"Right now, we've alerted all our people to the fact we may have to be working this weekend," Balderson said.

But, he said, VDOT wants to make sure it doesn't send out too many workers early on because they might also have to deal with heavy snow later in the week.

In Woodstock, Archie and Cindy Hobday were stocking up on necessities at Wal-Mart on Friday evening.

"We got water, bread, soup, peanut butter and jelly," Hobday said. "You don't want to cook, right?"

His wife said she'd heard about the big storm prediction on the news.

"Well, you don't want to get caught short," Hobday explained.

Mrs. Hobday added, "We might be without power they said three to five days or something on the news."

Ronald Miller of Toms Brook had a cart full of water jugs. He was sent to the store by his wife, and was then headed to get 15 gallons of gas.

"She just wanted to stock up [on water], and get some gas for generators," Miller said. "She gets more excited than I do."

Woodstock resident Doug Bock thinks people are overreacting. As a private vendor, he stocks beer, bread, snack foods, sodas and other supplies at Wal-Mart, and he'd been watching shoppers throughout the day Friday.

"I got here at 3:30 this afternoon," Bock said. "I couldn't believe how many people were in here -- at least twice what's here on a normal Friday when I get here. I honestly, because of what I've been hearing, wasn't thinking that much about [a potentially devastating storm], and then I come in here and see it's like, wow.

"It's always bread, milk and eggs. I've got a small generator at home, so I get beer and frozen pizzas."

He said he'd been hearing rainfall totals of 3-5 inches.

"Doesn't sound like a lot, unless you're getting that in an hour," Bock said. "If it all like disappears and we don't get nothing, like hardly anything, and that happens a lot...I think it's funny. It just makes me laugh the way people freak out."

He said he's seen people buy seven or eight loaves of bread at a time.

"It's like they're stocking up for the end of the world," Bock said.

Regional localities and utilities were also offering advice to Northern Shenandoah Valley residents.

The Frederick County Department of Fire and Rescue urged caution when using candles, and warned against using charcoal grills or portable LP grills inside, and to use gas stoves and ovens only to cook, not to heat.

A news release from the department says portable generators should only be used in well-ventilated areas, and not near doors, windows or vents.

"Do not operate generators indoors, inside garages, or in basements," the release states. "They should be away from overhangs and decks. Keep spare fuel away from generators and in a well ventilated area. Do not refill a hot generator - wait for it to cool down to avoid burns."

Front Royal Town Manager Steve Burke urged motorists to not drive around barricades put up due to high water. In a notice to residents, he also warns against trying to remove downed power lines. The notice states the town's website and Facebook page will have updates on the town's storm response.

Winchester will open an emergency shelter at the parks and recreation facility in Jim Barnett Park if necessary, according to a news release from the city.

Gas and electric companies were issuing advice via news releases throughout Friday. Besides reporting outages, all warned against trying to move downed power lines.

Columbia Gas of Virginia advised residents who smelled a strong odor of gas -- like rotten eggs -- to leave the area and call the company from a safe location. If the smell is indoors, also call 911. Columbia Gas advised people not to smoke, make a spark or flame, turn lights on or off, or open or close windows.

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