2010-09-02 / Front Page

Islanders keep wary eye on Earl

Town braces for brush with hurricane
By Dara Chadwick

Islanders planning an outdoor end-of-summer bash this Labor Day weekend might want to prepare for an extra, albeit unwelcome, guest – Hurricane Earl.

Uncertainty surrounds the question of when Jamestown will be impacted by the storm – if it is impacted at all.

As of Tuesday morning, Earl was located about 1,070 miles south-southeast of Cape Hatteras, N.C., according to WeatherBug senior meteorologist James West. With sustained winds of 135 mph, the Category 4 hurricane was moving toward the westnorthwest at 14 mph.

What the storm will do when it reaches the Carolinas was a concern for Jamestown Town Administrator Bruce Keiser on Monday.

“Once the storm reaches the Carolinas, it picks up speed dramatically,” Keiser said. “There’s a bowling alley effect.”

Keiser and the rest of Jamestown’s emergency management team met Monday afternoon to discuss hurricane preparedness plans and participate in a conference call with the Rhode Island Emergency Management Agency.

Though he wasn’t willing to take an alarmist stance, Keiser did advise islanders to prepare for the storm – which was expected to hit Rhode Island, if it does, on Friday –and to stay abreast of what’s happening.

“We’ll provide continuous updates on our town website,” he said. “And people should stay tuned to the news.”

Preparations for a storm like this need to begin about four days in advance, Keiser said.

Jamestown Police Chief Thomas Tighe, who serves as the town’s director of emergency management, said that all town departments have begun preparing for a potential hit by Earl.

All highway and police vehicles have been filled with gas and there is plenty of gas in the tanks for refueling, he said. The highway department has stocked up on working chainsaws to deal with any downed tree limbs, town generators are fully operational and plans are in place to open an emergency shelter at Melrose School, should that become necessary.

In addition, Tighe said, the recreation department has plans in place should it need to evacuate the campground at Ft. Getty.

Even if Earl isn’t a direct hit, potential problems could still exist, Tighe said.

“We might have a lot of high seas and surf,” he said. “And there might be downed tree limbs, as well.”

In a major storm, Tighe said, the island might be cut off into three sections, if Mackerel Cove and the creek should overflow.

Part of the town’s emergency plan includes stationing a fire truck and a rescue truck at both Beavertail and the North End, in case the roads should become impassable. That decision is at the fire chief’s discretion, he said.

In the event that islanders lose access to the bridges, Tighe said the police will stay in contact with the state through the emergency operating center and that a helicopter can be arranged, if necessary.

High tide and the low-lying areas that connect the North End to the Village can be a “lethal combination,” according to Keiser.

Police will be posted should roads become flooded and should an evacuation be ordered, police and fire personnel will go neighborhood to neighborhood – even knocking on doors – to alert residents if telephone and electric service is interrupted, he said.

While no one is suggesting that residents have anything to panic about, preparation – and common sense – is vital to safely riding out a significant storm.

“Over the years, people have become kind of lax,” Tighe said. “They say, ‘let’s go out and see what’s going on,’ and they don’t see the downed wire. Everybody should stay home. It’s not a sightseeing thing.”

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