The Star Beacon; Ashtabula, Ohio

October 29, 2012

EMA braces for high winds, river flooding

By CARL E. FEATHER - cfeather@starbeacon.com
Star Beacon

JEFFERSON —  

 The county’s Emergency Management Agency’s director is bracing for high winds and flooding along the Grand and Ashtabula rivers as Hurricane Sandy roars across the East Coast.

EMA Director George Sabo said he and EMA directors from Lake and Geauga counties began talking on Sunday to make sure they are “on the same page” with the plans for the region. Representatives from FirstEnergy also are involved in the discussions as the lakeshore counties prepared for several days of challenging weather.

The EMA monitored the situation throughout the day Monday, and Sabo said they planned to staff the operations center begining at midnight.

Late Monday morning, the National Weather Service updated EMAs in the region on its forecast for the storm. For Ashtabula County, winds were expected to gust up to 60 to 75 mph late Monday through this afternoon. Sustained winds were to be around 23 mph. Rainfall was forecasted at 2 to 3 inches in the 48-hour period ending 8 a.m. Halloween.

Sabo likened the storm to the Hurricane Ike blast that roared into the county in September 2008 and toppled a number of power poles along Ashtabula’s Lake Avenue and elsewhere in the county. 

“The high winds are going to be the biggest thing,” he said. “We could have the potential for something like (Hurricane Ike) again, whenever you have winds of that magnitude.”

Sabo, who held a conference call with the National Weather Service, said he feels the storm’s potential for damage is not being overestimated by forecasters

“Nobody is taking this lightly,” he said. “I’d rather be prepared and have minimal impact from it than to not be prepared and have maximum impact.”

Sabo said that if a household experiences loss of electrical power, it should report the outage to FirstEnergy.

“That’s really important they do that,” he said. “Everyone assumes that if they have an outage, the utility knows that the lights aren’t on.”

The number for reporting an outage is 1-888-544-4877.

The other important thing to keep in mind is the welfare of the elderly during a power outage. 

“The biggest thing is to check on the elderly,” he said. “I sit here and shudder because there are individuals so invisible that they actually spend days in the cold without heat because they do not ask for help.”

Assuming a household has power to run a router and computer, more emergency preparedness information and alerts will be posted on the EMA’s Facebook page, www.facebook.com/Ashtabula EMA, Sabo said.

In addition to the damage that can be caused by high winds, the county is bracing for flooding along rivers and their tributaries swollen by heavy rainfall and pushed back by high waves on Lake Erie. Late Monday afternoon, the waves at Walnut Beach were reaching to within feet of the boardwalk. 

Those who live along the county’s rivers could face localized flooding throughout today and Wednesday. Further, The National Weather Service advisory issued to EMAs on Monday noted that drains, ditches and storm sewers clogged by leaves could cause localized flooding headaches, as well.

“We’ve got a lot of water already and we got a lot more coming,” Sabo said. “For now, the ditches seem to be moving the water well.”

Sabo said county emergency responders have sent six ambulances and crews to the East Coast as part of a contract. FirstEnergy also has sent personnel to the East Coast, but Sabo said the utility will have repair crews and equipment in the county to handle local needs, as well.