Gov. Andrew Cuomo says the state is ready to back up local governments in their response to a superstorm that's bearing down on the North Country and the rest of the Northeast.
Meanwhile, most local schools and Paul Smith's College are dismissing students early today. Local fire departments, towns and villages were also gearing up to respond to the storm.
Cuomo visited AuSable Forks on Sunday, met with first responders and briefed local officials on the state's preparedness for the storm. He the state Department of Transportation has more than 200 pieces of equipment and 400 personnel on call across the North Country. Cuomo also said 1,100 New York Army National Guard troops are ready to deploy, if needed.
A couple of teenage couples are among the students walking to their school buses as Saranac Lake High School lets out early today in preparation for a confluence of storms involving Hurricane Sandy.
(Enterprise photo — Mike Lynch)
"Our message today is very simple," Cuomo told the news media inside the town of Jay Community Center. "We wanted to find out how we can help, what state resources are needed and how we can help local government get ready."
Recalling the lessons learned from Tropical Storm Irene, which ravaged Essex County in August 2011, and Tropical Storm Lee, Cuomo called on local residents to be prepared, regardless of what the weather forecasts are saying.
"I know all the weather forecasts say it's not really going to be a big thing in the North Country," he said. "Weather forecasts are routinely wrong. Remember for Irene and Lee, the forecast was it wasn't going to touch the North Country.
-Category 1 hurricane
-85 MPH winds as of early this morning
-Blamed for 85 deaths in the Caribbean
-Expected to hook inland today and collide with a wintry storm from the west and cold air from the Arctic
-Expected to come ashore tonight
"There's a very high wind warning for a long period of time. High winds means downed trees, downed trees means downed wires, downed wires means power outages. Just be smart. Government is doing what it has to do. Citizens have a role also. They have to be responsible, they have to be smart and they have to be careful."
Town of Jay Supervisor Randy Douglas, chairman of the Essex County Board of Supervisors, said he was grateful for the support offered by Cuomo and U.S. Rep. Bill Owens.
"We've been work diligently with our local elected officials, local emergency services and local public officials to make sure our people are safe in this time of need," Douglas said. "We've pre-planned. We're getting pretty good at this. Since I've been supervisor for the last nine years, we've had nine states of emergency."
Franklin County Emergency Services Director Ricky Provost said services the county will declare a state of emergency by lunchtime today.
School district officials in the Tri-Lakes were either sending their students home early today or contemplating it.
Saranac Lake students, including students at St. Bernard's Catholic elementary school, dismissed at various times between 11:05 a.m. and 12:05 p.m. Superintendent Gerald Goldman said the "driving force" behind that decision was that Franklin County is contemplating declaring a state of emergency.
Goldman said the storm is not typical, its impact is difficult to gauge, and people are "spooked" about that.
"I don't want to add to that," he said. "The way I look at this, lots of times the weatherman is wrong on the good side. They predict bad things, and we don't get them. Where I get worried is what happens when they're wrong on the other end and they predict something and its worse."
The Lake Placid Central School District was also expected to dismiss students early today. The middle-high school was scheduled to close at 10:30 this morning, and the elementary school planned to let kids out at 11:15 a.m.
Classes were canceled at Paul Smith's College as of 12:15 p.m. today. At North Country Community College, classes were planned to go forward on schedule, as of 9 a.m.
Officials at Keene Central School weren't sure of their plans as of 9:30 this morning.
The Tupper Lake Middle/High School was set to close at 12:35 p.m, and students at the L.P. Quinn Elementary School were set to be sent home at 1:10 p.m.
Town and village officials in Tupper Lake held an emergency preparedness meeting Sunday, and another was scheduled for this morning at 10 a.m. Village and town board members and officials from the electric and water/sewer departments and departments of public works, as well as fire, police and rescue squad officials and Tupper Lake Central School District Superintendent were all scheduled to attend.
Tupper Lake fire Chief Mark Picerno said firefighters spent time this weekend checking all their equipment, filling up gas and making sure everything is in working order. Starting at 11 a.m. today, the department was planning to have the station manned 24 hours a day until the storm passes.
Picerno said people should call 911 in an emergency, as usual, but if people need non-emergency assistance, they should call the police station at 518-359-3776. The fire station can be reached at 518-359-2543.
The Knights of Columbus hall on High Street is set to be used as an emergency shelter if necessary. It has a generator for emergency power backup if necessary. If people need to make use of that option, they should call the police station.
"Hopefully it doesn't get that far," Picerno said.
The Saranac Lake Volunteer Fire Department is also preparing to respond to the storm. Village Fire Driver John Derby said firefighters would man the firehouse beginning at noon today.
Emergency officials were expected to meet with the Lake Placid village Board of Trustees at the Lake Placid firehouse at 10 a.m. today to discuss "emergency procedures in anticipation of weather conditions," according to a press release.
National Grid urged its customers to "take all necessary precautions to ensure your safety." The company said in an email that it has been preparing for the storm and its employees "are ready to respond to our customers' needs."
"If you plan to use a generator to supply power during an outage, be sure to only operate it outdoors," the email said. "To prevent a safety issue, before operating generators, be sure to turn off the main breaker located in the electric service panel. If you see a downed power line, do not go near it or drive over it, always assume it's live."
For more safety tips and to report a power outage, visit www.nationalgrid.com/HurricaneSandy.
Brian Mann of North Country Public Radio contributed to this report.