By Mark E. Vogler and Dustin Luca Staff Writers
---- — No one knows for sure just how hard the windy wrath of Hurricane Sandy will hit the Merrimack Valley tomorrow morning.
But Methuen School Superintendent Judith A. Scannell didn’t want to take any chances last night for being unprepared for a worst-case scenario. So, she put the city’s school parents on notice with a phone call that went out to 8,630 homes last night that there may not be any school tomorrow and Tuesday.
“Every parent in pre-school through grade 12 received the phone call,” Scannell said in a telephone interview. “I sent the call out for planning purposes, so parents can have a plan B in place for child care.”
Scannell said the question of whether to cancel classes won’t come until early tonight, after she meets with city police, fire and public works officials and the emergency management team. By then, officials will know more on how the hurricane will impact the area.
“I will make a decision after we meet and let the parents know either way whether school is on for Monday or not,” Scannell said.
“It’s all about safety. That’s the number one issue. I’m very concerned about the buses,” she said, noting that several of the schools are in woody areas, where falling tree limbs could cause problems, she said.
It there are no classes, scheduled athletic events will be called off, Scannell said.
Scannell’s concerns are shared by school officials throughout the area as Hurricane Sandy heads toward New England.
“We treat this like we would a snow event,” Lawrence School Superintendent/Receiver Jeffrey C. Riley said last night.
“We’re obviously monitoring the forecast closely, and a decision on closure or delay could come as early as Sunday evening. If not, we’ll have facilities staff on the ground in Lawrence in the early hours before schools open Monday morning to provide us with additional information about conditions. If there is anything to announce, we’ll alert staff and families through our automated phone system, in addition to notifying media,” he said.
The National Weather Service in Taunton issued a high wind watch for the area and much of Southern New England from tomorrow morning through late tomorrow night.
Forecasters say the storm could result in widespread damaging winds and power outages across the region.
Gov. Deval Patrick yesterday declared a state of emergency for Massachusetts as Hurricane Sandy approached, threatening to combine with another storm from the west and cold air from Canada to bring heavy rains and damaging winds that could cause widespread power outages.
The governor said 200 National Guard members were on standby and the number would rise to at least 1,000 by the time the storm hits the state, possibly tonight.
It is expected to peak tomorrow and Tuesday, and could cause moderate to major coastal flooding and severe beach erosion.
After last year’s October storm, which dropped as much as a foot of snow, utility companies have spent the past year clearing out weakening and dead trees.
National Grid has “done an aggressive job of tree trimming over the last year,” company President Marcy Reed said.
“We learned a lot from last year’s storms,” she said. “We recognize the frustrations our customers had, and it’s our objective to earn their trust back and meet their expectations this time around.”
Alec O’Meara, media relations manager at Unitil, said his company doesn’t “prepare for storms in a period of months before a storm occurs. Preparing for a storm, good storm preparedness, is a year-long affair.”
Utility companies throughout the area have arranged for a combined thousands of line crews, tree-removal crews and more.
“We will be ready on Sunday night and into Monday and Tuesday when Sandy comes in,” Reed said.
Lawrence Police Chief John Romero was taking a “wait and see” attitude about the hurricane, but still making sure plans were in place.
“We’ve dealt with severe weather before, so we’ve been in touch with state police,” Romero said.
“Flooding is always an issue for us. State police has been very helpful in providng vehicles if we need them,” he said.