SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

Nation/World

October 27, 2012

Massachusetts officials prepare for powerful storm

BOSTON — Massachusetts officials braced yesterday for the arrival of a mega-storm that could bring damaging winds, 10 inches of rain and coastal and inland flooding to the state and much of the East Coast.

While the exact track of Hurricane Sandy remains uncertain, Gov. Deval Patrick said at a Statehouse briefing that current projections show the weather system reaching the state by late Sunday and lingering until early Wednesday.

Forecasts that show Sandy veering inland and merging with another storm front in the mid-Atlantic could lower the potential for catastrophic damage in Massachusetts, but Patrick still warned of a 4- to 6-foot coastal storm surge and 30- to 35-foot seas offshore.

Boat owners who planned to remove their vessels from the water were advised to do so by Sunday.

With the potential for widespread power failures, much of the focus of the state’s preparations remained on power companies that were harshly criticized for their response to two major storms last year that, in both cases, left some customers without electricity for a week.

“It’s the weather. It’s Mother Nature. It’s not entirely predictable,” Patrick said. “But the things that we observed from the last two storms should be lessons we are planning against.”

Utilities face the threat of stiff fines if their response falls short of expectations, officials said.

Attorney General Martha Coakley has recommended a combined $30 million in fines against National Grid, NStar and Western Massachusetts Electric Co. for problems after Tropical Storm Irene in August 2011 and a surprise snowstorm last October. The Department of Public Utilities is expected to rule on those penalties next month.

Richard Sullivan, the state’s Energy and Environmental Affairs Secretary, said utilities will be under strict scrutiny this time around. He said each has filed emergency plans with the state and are contracting with crews as far away as Washington state to deal with expected outages.

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