After days of warnings and hype, Hurricane Sandy’s wild wrath is expected to hit the region hard today with treacherous winds that will rip down trees and power lines.
“My main concern is the wind,” said Methuen Mayor Stephen Zanni, stepping out of an emergency planning meeting with other city officials last night. He urged residents to stay home and off roads until Sandy’s demise.
Schools, municipal buildings and City Halls throughout the Merrimack Valley and Southern New Hampshire are closed today, as uncertainty and worry about the storm peaked last night.
Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick warned that by Monday afternoon “the entire Commonwealth will feel the effects” of Hurricane Sandy. State of emergencies were declared in Massachusetts and New Hampshire over the weekend. Patrick urged all schools and colleges to be closed today and all non-essential state employees to stay home. He also encouraged private employers to keep their workers home today.
Coastal flooding is expected along with major wind, tree damage and power outages inland. The National Weather Service issued a high wind warning for the area, noting speeds may hit 75 mph.
Bracing for Sandy’s beachfront arrival, the American Red Cross opened a shelter in Newbury last night, encouraging Plum Island residents to take cover there. A voluntary evacuation order was issued to residents in low lying areas. The Red Cross shelter is located at Newbury Middle School at 63 Hanover St.
Other shelters could open in individual communities today, depending on the scope of the damage and how long power outages may last.
“Right now, it’s kind of a wait and see what we need. The agencies are all prepared, including ourselves,” said Lawrence Police Chief John Romero. “If we need to bring more people in, we’ll do that.”
Methuen Public Works Director Raymond DiFiore said he’s very concerned about downed trees and damage. Last night, he lined up five private contractors who can assist city crews clearing branches, limbs and trees if necessary.
All over the region, residents were planning to take shelter in their own homes, having stocked on groceries, bottled water and flashlights over the weekend. By last evening, many store shelves were empty and D batteries were scarce. Frustrated by mobbed grocery stores, shoppers were hitting convenience stores for essentials last night.
“I’m not going anywhere for the next 36 hours,” said Theresa Piazza, a 37-year-old middle school teacher who plans to ride out the storm at her Methuen home. As the storm warnings intensified, Piazza and her fiance Peter Fisher put away yard items and tied the gas grill to a fence in the backyard over the weekend.
She also filled a big pitcher of water, made sure all their batteries were charged and put candles in reach. For the most part, the couple was all set on groceries for themselves. But she did ask Fisher to make a last minute stop for food for her small dog Peanut. The Shih Tzu mix, who suffers from allergies, eats a special diet of gentle grains, butternut squash and hamburg that Piazza planned to prepare in bulk for Peanut before the storm hit.
“That was the priority,” said Piazza. She works for the public schools in Wilmington, where school was called off today. Fisher is a daycare teacher at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston. He was still waiting to hear last night if he was needed at work today.
As a science teacher, Piazza said she was working on a unit about erosion prior to Hurricane Sandy. She said she’s sure to use Hurricane Sandy and its impact as a “teaching moment” when she and her students return to school.
National Grid trucks and Asplundh tree removal crews lined up in Lawrence last night in the old Showcase Cinema parking lot on Route 114. The company released a statement, saying they are prepared to handle power outages and natural gas services interruptions throughout New England today.
In his address yesterday, Patrick said he hopes to see a “well oiled” response from utility repair crews.
Follow staff reporter Jill Harmacinski on Twitter under the screenname EagleTribJill.