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Upstate NY braces as Sandy churns in (2nd update)

Updated 6:19 p.m.

October 29, 2012
By MICHAEL VIRTANEN , Associated Press

SCHOHARIE - The leading edges of a massive and powerful Hurricane Sandy started lashing upstate New York as darkness fell Monday, knocking out power, threatening lakefront homes and shutting down government, business and schools as the worst of the winds still lay ahead.

True to predictions, the storm crunched the East Coast with heavy storm surge, soaking rains and whipping winds that toppled trees and took down power lines. By early evening, more than quarter-million people, most in the New York City area and Long Island were without power.

In the Hudson Valley, a water treatment plant was shut down in Ulster County when flood waters entered the grounds. County officials were looking at other potential flooding trouble spots and opening shelters.

On Lake Ontario, some people who live along the lakefront were encouraged to leave their homes as waves up to 10 feet were predicted on shore and up to 20 feet out farther.

Automated calls went out to warn around 13,000 Rochester-area residents who live in lakeside communities. Residents were told that if they didn't feel safe, there were five shelters opening around the city, said Monroe County spokesman Justin Feasel.

Emergency officials next door in rural Wayne County also suggested that residents right on the shore evacuate their homes.

"Certainly we don't want them to be in trouble and then need help getting out. We'd rather them spend the evening in a nice hotel with a glass of wine and a nice dinner," said county emergency management director George Bastedo.

If the wind was a worry, there was also a sense of relief that flooding was less a concern.

During the day across the state, from the Hudson Valley to the Adirondacks and west to Buffalo, anxious upstate New Yorkers remembered the flooding wrought by a double-whammy last year and stocked up on supplies, boarded up windows and fled flood-prone homes.

Municipal offices, colleges, and dozens of school districts across the state shut down Monday, hours before the storm - a hybrid behemoth forming as Hurricane Sandy merges with a winter storm from the west and an arctic blast from the north - was expected to arrive with heavy rain and wind gusting to 65 mph. The National Weather Service predicted sustained winds of 30 to 40 mph Monday afternoon through Tuesday, and one to six inches of rain.

The wind was expected to cause even more damage than usual because it was coming from the north in a region where trees are anchored against the prevailing west wind, the weather service said. Pine trees, with their shallow root systems, are the most likely to be toppled.

Some minor stream flooding was predicted in the Catskill Mountains. Flooding was forecast along the Hudson River at Poughkeepsie on Monday night due to the Atlantic storm surge, and wind-driven waves were expected to cause lakeshore flooding along Lake Ontario in western New York on Monday afternoon through Tuesday morning.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo called up an additional 1,000 National Guard troops, doubling the superstorm force he called up Sunday.

In the rural village of Schoharie 25 miles west of Albany, Leslie Price was packing up Monday morning at the trailer provided by the Federal Emergency Management Agency after her home was washed away by Tropical Storm Irene in August 2011. Her sister, Lonie Putman, was helping Price and her two cats move to a hillside cabin owned by a stylist who works at Price's hair salon.

"We've got to get the cats out," Putman said.

Price, also the Schoharie village clerk and treasurer, said about 300 homes were damaged in last year's flooding. She said 58 homes have been repaired and people have moved back in, but most of the others remain empty. Price reopened her flood-damaged hair salon on Aug. 28, the one-year anniversary of Irene.

"By Thursday, we'll know if we have an office or not, if we have a trailer or not," Price said. She said Irene's flooding took everyone by surprise, but she's determined not to be a victim this time.

In Elmira, near the Pennsylvania border in western New York, shoppers stocked up on last-minute supplies at Tops Supermarket as the first cold rain started falling at midday. Susan Calabrese put her head down in the rain as she rolled her cart loaded with four, one-gallon jugs of water.

"I got a lot of stuff but a lot of places are out of water," Calabrese said. "Tops got an emergency supply."

Calabrese lost her power last year during Tropical Storm Lee last fall, and during a tornado in July. She fully expects to lose power again in this storm.

"We have lots of soup we can heat up on the grill," Calabrese said. "We just have to stay warm, if we lose power, with our kerosene heater. It's all we have."

Don Hall of Elmira stocked up on toilet paper, milk, bread and food he can grill. Hall was confident that emergency officials could set things right quickly, and said the tornado in July might actually make it less likely that power will go out.

"It should have gotten rid of all the riskier trees," Hall said.

Further west, roofer Jeffrey Marsh was boarding up the windows at his two-story house on the shore of Lake Ontario at Wilson's Harbor, in Niagara County. He and his wife and their 1-year-old son will ride out the storm at home.

"What really can you do?" he said. "Board up what you can and hope for the best."


Associated Press writer Michael Hill contributed to this report from Elmira and AP writer Carolyn Thompson contributed from Niagara County.



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