By GLENN ADAMS
---- — AUGUSTA, Maine (AP) — Despite uncertain forecasts for northern New England, utilities, emergency responders and storm-tested residents took steps Saturday to be ready for a powerful storm as Hurricane Sandy moved up the East Coast.
"I think the general theme is there were so many lessons learned from Irene, the people know how to make storm preparations," said Capt. Chris Gookin of the Vermont National Guard, referring to the tropical storm that devastated much of the state last year. "Preparations have become more or less everyday business, rather than a run on stores."
Throughout the three states, people brought in outdoor furniture, bought supplies and tried to keep up-to-date on the latest track of the storm, knowing it could hit with Irene's ferocity or become a glancing blow when it combines with weather systems moving in from the west and from Canada.
In Maine, lobsterman Greg Griffen of Cape Elizabeth wasn't taking any chances. With the benefit of a long calm before the storm, Griffen said, he spent Friday moving 100 of his traps to deep water from shallower seas, where they are more vulnerable to shifting and damage.
Some weather reports suggested the storm would turn inland south of Cape Cod, easing the blow to northern New England, while other forecasters "said they have never seen a late October hurricane behave like this," Griffen said.
"Some of my competitors have been pulling their traps and taking them right home," he said, adding that the more dire weather predictions "sort of encouraged them to pull the plug on the season."
In New Hampshire, customers were snapping up sand bags and sand, batteries, flashlights and other storm supplies, said Ed Howe, a clerk at Rand's Do It Best Hardware Store in Plymouth. "We sold a couple of generators too."
The threat of the storm caused President Barack Obama's re-election campaign to cancel a rally featuring first lady Michelle Obama on Tuesday.
New Hampshire's largest utility was calling its customers to remind them to prepare for power outages that could accompany the hurricane early next week. Public Service Co. of New Hampshire made calls Friday to customers who are on medical support devices or are otherwise especially vulnerable when power outages occur, and it planned to make similar calls to all customers over the weekend.
Utility crews from as far away as Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Oklahoma and Texas were on their way to New Hampshire to join Public Service crews and local contractors in making repairs to anticipated storm damage.
In Maine, the state's Emergency Management Agency said that although the storm was expected to turn inland south of the state, it has the potential to create significant problems beginning on Monday.
Even before the weekend, Gov. Paul LePage signed a limited Emergency Declaration that will allow power crews from other states and Canada to help Maine prepare for the storm. The declaration will help Maine power providers pre-place their crews by extending the hours their crews can drive.
"County and local emergency managers, first responders and utility companies are getting ready for a serious storm," said Robert McAleer, director of the Maine Emergency Management Agency. "But we all can take steps to make sure we can weather the storm."
Central Maine Power Co., which services most of the state, said its utility trucks were fueled and equipped in preparation for the storm, and key CMP personnel were holding pre-storm planning sessions to finalize storm-response plans. Farther north, Bangor Hydro Electric Co. and Maine Public Service planned to work together to cover both service territories and deploy crews to support each other as needed.
In Vermont, Green Mountain Power had tree and line crews on call from six states and Ontario to assist the utility in power restoration efforts.