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Region braces for remnants of Hurricane Sandy, Massena officials issue emergency declaration

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Several north country school districts scheduled early dismissals for today, and St. Lawrence County and the town and village of Massena declared states of emergency as Hurricane Sandy threatened the Eastern Seaboard.

St. Lawrence County Board of Legislators Chairwoman Sallie A. Brothers signed off on the emergency declaration Sunday. The declaration allows the county to be reimbursed by the Federal Emergency Management Agency for any costs incurred while preparing for the storm. If the county waited until after the storm, it could not be reimbursed for those beforehand costs, Ms. Brothers said.

“This is the first time, I think, that we’ve taken that approach,” Ms. Brothers said. “It’s better to be prepared and understand how the system works.”

“It’s done judiciously,” she said. “We wouldn’t simply do it just for no reason.”

Massena followed suit Sunday evening; town Supervisor Joseph D. Gray and Mayor James F. Hidy jointly issued a declaration that went into effect at 6 p.m. The declaration followed a recommendation made by St. Lawrence County officials earlier in the day, according to Police Chief Timmy J. Currier.

“This declaration provides village and town officials the opportunity to prepare for the anticipated storm and directs officials to take whatever steps are or may be necessary to protect life, property and public infrastructure, or to provide emergency assistance,” Mr. Currier said in the statement.

Mr. Hidy said he saw Sunday night’s emergency declaration as necessary.

“We’re following in line with the state as well as the county in preparing to incorporate a state of emergency,” Mr. Hidy said. “It’d be ridiculous for us not to err on the side of caution, as well. It’s for public safety first and foremost.”

Officials from the village, town, Massena Memorial Hospital and emergency responders will meet at 10 a.m. today to come up with an emergency plan in the event that conditions deteriorate, Mr. Hidy said.

The St. Lawrence County Sheriff’s Department also issued a statement Sunday evening, warning the public to expect worsening conditions by this evening’s commute. Winds tonight could gust from 60 to 80 mph in the St. Lawrence Valley. Most areas are expected to receive one to two inches of rain.

“This will result in many trees down and significant and lengthy power outage issues across the region,” the sheriff’s office said.

Students in the Massena and Norwood-Norfolk school districts will be sent home at 11 a.m., while Canton will dismiss at noon and Ogdensburg at 1p.m. according to announcements on those districts’ websites. Potsdam middle- and high-school students will dismiss at 11 a.m., while elementary school students will leave at noon.

Mr. Gray cautioned residents to prepare as they would for any possible weather emergency that couldcause power outages and tree and structural damage.

Massena Town Hall will open Monday as scheduled at 8 a.m. and will conduct normal business. If changes to that schedule become necessary, they will be announced through local media outlets, Mr. Gray said in a statement Sunday night.

“The state of emergency declaration will allow the town, if necessary, to restrict vehicular traffic in certain areas, or take other precautions as are necessary to both assist local first responders and to help protect public health and property,” Mr. Gray said.“While no one wants to over-react to this occurrence, we want to ensure that all provisions are in place should it be necessary to take further actions,”

Meanwhile, the Jefferson County Office of Fire and Emergency Management continued to watch how the mammoth storm will affect the north country.

The storm won’t be a hurricane when it reaches the region tonight, but it still could pose trouble for north country residents, said Joseph D. Plummer, Jefferson County director of fire and emergency management.

With heavy wind gusts, Mr. Plummer advised residents to make preparations in case power is knocked out. Windy conditions are expected to begin tonight and continue through Tuesday. The rain, however, is not expected to be as heavy as initially forecast, though the remainder of the week, including Halloween night on Wednesday, could remain wet.

“We’re continuing to monitor the situation to see if anything changes,” Mr. Plummer said.

Shane K. Sanford, spokesman for the Thousand Islands Bridge Authority, said buses, recreational vehicles, and big rigs with empty boxes will not be allowed over the bridge if winds exceed 50 mph. Only if the winds reach 70 mph would the bridge be closed to all vehicles, he said.

The state Department of Transportation will place electronic signs to let motorists know about any travel restrictions, Mr. Sanford said. The bridge authority also will email trucking companies about the situation.

At this point, Mr. Plummer said, the key message is: be prepared.

Emergency officials have put together a list of reminders for the public. They include securing outdoor furniture and other items; making sure generators and smoke and carbon-dioxide detectors are working properly, and preparing family emergency plans, to include having nonperishable foods, drinking water, batteries for flashlights and portable radios, gasoline for generators and food for pets on hand.

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