HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — Residents in many towns along the southern New England shoreline left their homes under mandatory evacuation orders Sunday while officials warned of damaging flooding, high winds and lengthy power failures from a potential superstorm striking the eastern U.S.
Forecasters with the National Weather Service said Connecticut, Massachusetts and Rhode Island could expect the worst storm conditions late Monday into Tuesday morning. Meteorologists predicted coastal storm surges of 6 to 11 feet in Long Island Sound, wind gusts of up to 70 mph and several inches of rain.
Home and business owners made last minute preparations Sunday. School officials in the region canceled classes on Monday and Tuesday. Government offices were ordered closed. Utility companies put workers on standby and welcomed out-of-state crews and their equipment to help fix expected power outages. National Guard troops were ready to respond, and emergency shelters were opened.
President Barack Obama declared a federal emergency in all three states, freeing up federal aid and resources ahead of the storm. The governors of all three states have declared states of emergency and put National Guard troops on standby.
Connecticut Gov. Dannel P. Malloy said Sunday that it appeared the worst-case storm scenario would hit the state and that he asked Obama to declare a "pre-landfall emergency" in the state, which would free up federal funding and other assistance before the storm hit. Hurricane Sandy was on a collision course with two other weather systems to create a superstorm.
Malloy said the superstorm "is the largest threat to human life this state has experienced in anyone's lifetime."
Malloy and Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick said nonessential state government offices would be closed Monday, but Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln Chafee said state agencies will remain open.
Officials with Connecticut Light & Power, which serves more than 1 million customers in Connecticut and was criticized for poor response after storms knocked out power last year, said they expected 300,000 to 600,000 homes in the state to lose electricity during the storm.
Thousands of residents in several shoreline towns from Stamford, Conn., to Westerly, R.I., were under mandatory evacuation orders, while officials in many other towns urged residents to leave voluntarily. Connecticut's largest city, Bridgeport, ordered mandatory evacuations of vulnerable areas and opened shelters, while New Haven Mayor John DeStefano said he was ordering evacuations but couldn't force people to leave.
The storm brought back memories of last year's Hurricane Irene, whose remnants damaged numerous homes along the Connecticut shore and left more than 800,000 homes and businesses in the state in the dark, some for more than a week.
Kariann Price, whose home in East Haven, Conn., lies about 30 yards from Long Island Sound, got slammed by Irene, with 3 feet of water in her basement and $20,000 in damage. Price said she is worried that this storm could be even worse, with higher seas predicted.
Residents of her street were under a mandatory evacuation order to leave by 6 p.m. Sunday, but Price said she and her husband couldn't meet that deadline because they were busy moving furniture and other possessions up to the second floor.
"We're elevating everything as much as possible," Price said. "We are not leaving until tomorrow morning. We need all day to bring everything upstairs."
Price echoed many shoreline residents' feelings when she said, "It's unbelievable that this happened a year ago, that this set of circumstances is going to happen again. People are still repairing the damage to their homes from Irene."