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Patrick: Utilities ‘Better Be’ Ready For Sandy

BOSTON — Massachusetts officials following the track of Hurricane Sandy are bracing for the potential of widespread power outages from a storm that could bring gale-force winds and flooding to the region by early next week.

Gov. Deval Patrick said he expected to receive emergency plans by Friday from the state’s major utility companies for how they will deal with the storm.

The utilities came under intense criticism last year following widespread and long-lasting power outages caused by Tropical Storm Irene in August and a surprise October snowstorm.

Asked during his monthly “Ask the Governor” show on WTKK-FM if he expected utilities to be more prepared for this storm, Patrick responded: “They’d better be.”

Patrick signed a law earlier this year that requires utilities to dramatically improve communications with their customers during emergencies. Many residents and municipal officials in areas hit hard by last year’s storm complained that they were unable to get accurate information from companies about when power might be restored.

MEMA computer models indicate Sandy would hit the Northeast and mid-Atlantic region as a tropical storm, with early Tuesday as a projected landfall.

The law requires the utilities to establish call centers that would be staffed around the clock after major storms to handle inquiries from customers about power restoration.

“People don’t want to deal with their utilities being out for days at a time, but if it’s going to be days at a time, they want to know it’s days at a time, and not, ‘We’re going to have it up at midnight,’ and midnight comes and goes and nothing happens,” Patrick said.

The law also requires utilities to designate liaisons with all cities and towns in their service areas.

Charlotte McCormick, with National Grid, says the utility has been tracking the storm since early this week and has contractors on standby.

“We’ve let them know that we’d like them to stay on alert, standby if you will, so if we do need them to come into the New England area, they’ll be ready and they’ll be here before anything happens,” she said.

The Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency, in a statement Thursday afternoon, said it was still too early to determine Sandy’s exact track but that computer models indicated it would hit the Northeast and mid-Atlantic region of the country as a tropical storm, with early Tuesday as a projected landfall.

MEMA warned that even if the storm made landfall south of New England, Massachusetts would still likely experience impacts such as damaging winds, power outages and flooding.

“Should Sandy make landfall in New England, the impacts will be even greater and Massachusetts would potentially experience a historic degree of freshwater and coastal flooding, wind damage and associated power outages,” the agency said.

MEMA’s Peter Judge said that while there’s still some uncertainty about how this storm will affect the state, there is plenty of time for people to take “common sense” steps to prepare.

“There is an upside for hurricanes: They do give you plenty of time to prepare,” Judge said. “So in that regard, with the weekend coming in, it may not be a bad idea for folks to check around and see what their situation is.”

MEMA suggests cleaning out gutters, removing dead branches from trees, clearing storm drains to prevent flooding, and it urges boat owners who were planning to take their vessel out of the water soon to do so this weekend. (Here’s MEMA’s full list of preparedness tips.)

Sandy hit Cuba as a Category 2 storm and is projected to move northward over the coming days. It could combine with a winter storm, thus drawing comparisons to the so-called “Perfect Storm” that struck off the coast of New England in 1991.

With reporting by The Associated Press and the WBUR Newsroom

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