October 30, 2014
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Sandy roars in with gusto
City takes first 10 hours in stride, braced for what's to come
Kim Kalunian
WHAT’S NEXT: Emergency management officials, including Fire Chief Ed Armstrong (far left) and Mayor Scott Avedisian to his right, listen in to a conference call with RIEMA and most of Rhode Island’s 39 cities and towns.

Mayor Scott Avedisian was convinced there was school yesterday.

“We could have gotten a full day in today,” he said at a noon meeting of emergency management officials Monday. When tossing around the idea of a parking ban, the mayor suggested they wait until school was out – but it already was.

With workers at their desks at City Hall and trash collected early in the morning, yesterday felt like business as usual in Warwick, aside from the lack of yellow school buses on the streets and all the media hype about the largest storm to ever hit the north Atlantic coast.

Avedisian said he felt obligated to cancel schools yesterday, since every other community chose to do so in the wake of Governor Chafee’s Declaration of Disaster Emergency.

But the weather conditions weren’t as bad as previously anticipated during school hours, which had Avedisian ruminating on the closure of schools. The highest wind gust recorded at Green Airport by late morning was 43 MPH.

But authorities weren’t taking any chances with Hurricane Sandy. She wasn’t to be trusted.

Police Captain Joseph Coffey was in command of the department’s emergency operations center. He said the unit staffed by officers and civilians were keeping an eye on safety issues, logistics, incident planning and communications. Finances were also on his list, as the city must document all storm-related expenses if it hopes to get federal reimbursements.

By mid-morning yesterday truck traffic on Route 95 in Connecticut had been halted and the entire corridor was to be closed by 1 p.m.

Coffey was doubtful that would have an impact on Warwick traffic as the Connecticut border is 23 miles away, but like so many other things, it wasn’t to be discounted either.

A concern voiced Sunday by Col. Stephen McCartney was how police would direct traffic, especially at key intersections such as Hoxsie Four Corners and Airport and Post Road if there is a sustained power outage. McCartney said he had been in contact with the National Guard and that they had promised assistance, as they did last year during Tropical Storm Irene, if necessary.

A Delta flight made it out of Green Airport early Monday, but after that all flights were canceled. Amtrak canceled its schedule and RIPTA stopped service to South County early yesterday and ceased all other operations by late morning. Warwick Mall was closed.

But the city stayed open, although traffic was lighter than usual.

During a 12:30 p.m. conference call with the Rhode Island Emergency Management Association (RIEMA), officials reported that the National Weather Service expected the worst of the storm to hit Rhode Island between 2 and 10 p.m., with some narrowing the window to 4 to 11 p.m. It was the wind and storm surge that had everyone worried, not the rainfall, which would have been most worrisome to communities close to rivers.

Instead, the coastal communities were bracing themselves for the worst. Those at RIEMA said Block Island could see 25- to 35-foot waves off their coast, but rivers wouldn’t overflow their banks like they did back in 2010.

The only potential threat for river flooding, said RIEMA, was near the Pawtuxet, an all-too-familiar occurrence for nearby residents. The major concern was Sandy’s surge that authorities estimated at three to six feet and potentially higher.

That had residents in low-lying coastal areas worried. Prompted by an unusually high tide Monday morning that had waves washing over his seawall, some like Joseph Piscopio spent the day moving furniture to a second level.

The threat of overflowing rivers wasn’t high on executive director of the Warwick Sewer Authority Janine Burke’s list of worries.

“The river is not going to be an issue at all,” she said.

Instead, she was more concerned about losing power, and said the Sewer Authority had been testing their generators over the past few days to ensure they would be up to speed. She also said they learned a valuable lesson from Tropical Storm Irene: Communication is key. The mayor agreed, noting that the Sewer Authority would be included in all emergency preparations this year. Burke said they now have radio communication so they can keep the city posted on incidents and vice versa.

Burke also reminded folks with grinder pumps that they will be unable to discharge to the sewer system without power. Other than that, she said, it should be smooth sailing.

“Sad to say, we’re getting good at this,” she said.

The Department of Public Works began handing out sandbags to residents on Sunday, and continued yesterday. As of Monday afternoon, Dept. Director Dave Picozzi said they had handed out roughly 2,000 bags.

The city also announced a new service called CodeRED, which disperses emergency phone calls to those who sign up at a rate of 1,000 calls per minute. Fire Chief Ed Armstrong said about 39,000 Warwick residents had already signed up for the service.

Though a decision to close schools on Tuesday was still up in the air as of press time, emergency officials discussed what would happen to the temporary shelter set up at Warwick Vets High School should students return in class. As of yesterday afternoon, five people had utilized the shelter, which the Rhode Island Chapter of the American Red Cross opened Sunday evening. Thayer Arena was designed as a pet shelter.

Avedisian said that crews cleared some downed trees yesterday morning, but overall, the first few hours of the storm went well. Avedisian was glad to see the city get through the first high tide, but was concerned how things would play out during the second high tide on Monday evening. But with everyone working in tandem, Avedisian predicted the rest of the storm would go pretty smoothly; he even received a 5:52 a.m. phone call Monday from the governor, just to check in.

During yesterday’s conference call, officials reported that the National Weather Service predicted the highest wind speeds would occur after 5 p.m. Monday and begin to die down overnight, with wind gusts reaching speeds of 90 mph.

The combination of high winds and high tides would likely cause coastal damage to Southern Rhode Island, said Theresa Murray, director of RIEMA.

Though what Monday night would bring was still uncertain, those at RIEMA were careful to remind local officials that the storm would linger through today.

“We’re not out of it yet,” said Larry Macedo, planning manager for RIEMA. “We still have a long way to go.”

With reports from John Howell


Comments
6 comments on this item

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Hind sight is 20/20. The Governor of RI called a State of Emergency. If the State of Emergency was not called, we may have chosen to do something else but I doubt it. If the Hurricane had hit us directly instead of NY/NJ, we could have been as bad as they are now. There were 6 schools today without power including the Tollgate Complex which prepares food for all the Tollgate elementary feeder schools. National Grid knows the Tollgate Complex is still without power and has yet to fix the problem. If the Tollgate Complex is without power in the morning, one High School, one Jr HS, the Drum Rock ECC and the Vocational Tech school will be inoperable. This is approximately 25% of the students. This would also mean that the surrounding elementary schools will be without a lunch program. I hope National Grid gets the job done quickly. I was at the Warwick Beacon today and the Mayor was on the phone. I was informed that the Mayor has made a call into National Grid to help move things along. We are still waiting.

Warwick Vets was set up as a Red Cross center for residents of Oakland Beach. There were 19 people at one point who planned to stay. When news came that they were able to return to their houses, 9 left. By noontime today the remaining people returned to their homes. Good luck to those who needed the additional help from the Red Cross and Thank you to the volunteers at the Red Cross who were there to help. I believe the Custodian for Vets was also in attendance over night.

As of 9pm, all the electricity in Warwick Schools is functioning. School will be in session Wednesday. Happy Halloween to all.

people paniced for this small storm if somthing big ever happened these people wouldnt know what to do

you should always be prepared

I agree Perky. If it was a bigger storm and a school was damaged to the point of not being able to be opened for a while, we would move the kids and the staff or have double sessions and/ or saturday classes. There is a plan in place in the event that it ever got that bad. I am glad we did not get hit as bad as NY and NJ.

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