Connecticut, Rhode Island join Hurricane Irene evacuation list

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Though Hurricane Irene was still hundreds of miles south, residents of low-lying areas of Connecticut and Rhode Island were evacuated Saturday as officials warned of widespread flooding from the powerful storm that is expected to strike at high tide.

In an afternoon briefing, Connecticut Gov. Dan Malloy said the storm would make landfall between Stamford and Bridgeport early Sunday morning, bringing seven to 12 inches of rain.

“I want to remind people that much of what you’ve watched on TV so far has occurred in states that were experiencing low tide,” Malloy said during a late afternoon briefing. “We expect to experience all of the brunt of this storm tomorrow morning at high tide, and that could be a very serious difference. So please do not draw conclusions about what you’re watching on [television], beaches at low tide that are getting battered.”

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A flood watch was in effect for portions of Connecticut, Massachusetts, Southern New Hampshire and Rhode Island through Sunday night.

Malloy said Connecticut was bracing for widespread power and telecommunication outages. After a reporter noted that during Hurricane Gloria in 1985 some residents were without power for as many as 14 days, Malloy replied, “That is one eventuality that we are preparing for.”

Malloy said authorities were likely to close the Merritt and Wilbur Cross parkways once winds approach 50 miles per hour, because of the many trees surrounding those roads. Serious wind damage is expected; the state is more forested than it was 50 years ago.

“What we are saying is, ‘Hey folks, complete your travel before nightfall, hunker down and please stay off the roads,’” Malloy said.

Officials in the Northeast were also urged to consult maps showing the flooding from a similar –- though perhaps not as powerful –- storm in 1992, which also hit Western Long Island Sound at high tide.

By nightfall on Saturday, shopkeepers in downtown Mystic, steps from the Mystic River, had removed their window displays and taped the plate glass to limit shattering. Some had jammed sandbags around their doors in an attempt to keep the water out. Even the local Starbucks had been boarded up with plywood.

Farther north on the docks of the New Bedford harbor in Massachusetts, lobstermen were bringing in the last of the traps in the midst of intermittent rain and sunshine. The harbor was crowded with fishing boats that were lashed together with ropes and tied to docks.

Chris Stowell, 34, and his father, Freddy, had spent the afternoon helping a friend bring in 150 lobster traps on the senior Stowell’s boat, the Jim Dandy. Both men said they didn’t see the point in worrying about the storm.

“If you freak out, you’ve got problems,” said Chris Stowell, as he tossed heavy green and yellow lobster traps from the Jim Dandy to the docks.

Stowell said he still has about 800 of his own lobster traps about 65 miles offshore. When asked if he was worried about them, he crossed his fingers in his heavy blue plastic gloves. “Hope for the best, but prepare for the worst.”

During the storm, Stowell said his father’s boat would be “staying right in her spot where she’s been for 30 years --- Jim Dandy’s corner.”

The task of unloading the 150 traps was the group’s last before the arrival of Hurricane Irene. When the storm came in, Chris Stowell said, he’d be “sitting at home, having a Bud.”


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-- Maeve Reston in Mystic, Conn.