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Ogdensburg prepared for storm’s worst

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OGDENSBURG — Better safe than sorry was the feeling Monday in Ogdensburg as officials prepared for the effects of Hurricane Sandy.

City Manager John M. Pinkerton declared a state of emergency that will remain in effect until Saturday.

Mr. Pinkerton said the prospect of rain was the least of his worries.

“The wind will come from the Northeast, and the problem with that is that most of our trees have grown so they can resist westerly winds,” he said. “They’re not necessarily acclimated for a nor’easter. We are also expecting sustained winds of 30 to 40 miles per hour for a possible period of four to five hours.”

He said with widespread power outages likely, potentially lasting for days, the city was being proactive.

“We want to make sure we are as prepared as we can be,” he said. “I don’t want anybody to panic, but at the same time, this is nothing to shirk.”

Fire Chief Steven M. Badlam said he planned to keep firefighters on call so the department could preserve manpower at the station if the department received multiple calls for assistance.

“If mutual aid is needed outside the city, too, we definitely would give someone else a hand if they needed it,” Mr. Badlam said. “And that way we would also bring in more guys to cover the shift.”

Mr. Badlam said that he doubted the storm would be that severe, but that it was better to err on the side of caution.

“I don’t see where we’re going to get two inches of rain,” he said. “We’ll get the tail end of it, I think. But if it changes course, we will adjust our plans accordingly.”

Police Chief Richard J. Polniak said he was keeping a close eye on weather reports throughout the day.

“The 1998 ice storm is the only time I can recall in the last 30 or 32 years where we’ve had to declare a state of emergency,” he said.

He said the emergency declaration could allow the city to recoup some of its expenses that go beyond routine public safety, such as overtime pay, supplies and equipment. He said the city could apply to the state Emergency Management Office or the Federal Emergency Management Agency for reimbursement.

Mr. Polniak said he was not going to guess about what the weather would do.

“I’m trying to rely on the weather reports and experts as this storm moves into different locations,” he said. “I’m expecting mostly heavier winds and power outages that could last for a couple of hours or a couple of days. I think National Grid is pretty well prepared for it, but you never know.”

He said the department was prepared to set up emergency shelters at the city’s schools, if necessary. The schools are designated as such under the city’s disaster preparedness plan. The city also could tap the fire station, police department and Lockwood Civic Center for shelter, he said.

As of Monday morning, Claxton-Hepburn Medical Center activated its hospital incident command system in anticipation of a power outage.

“The inpatient care areas all have emergency power,” hospital spokeswoman Laura C. Shea said. “Nonessential areas aren’t powered so we can focus on patient care. We certainly are hoping it’s not going to be as bad as some are saying it could be, but we are ready just in case.”

Mr. Pinkerton urged residents who see downed power lines to call National Grid at 1 (800) 642-4272. Any sparking or electrical arcs should be reported to city police at 393-1551.

Mr. Polniak said people should resist the urge to take photos of storm damage.

“People don’t realize the danger they’re putting themselves in with live power lines and branches down,” he said. “If we need to declare no unnecessary pedestrian or vehicular traffic, we’ll do that.”

“If you don’t have to go anywhere, just stay home,” Mr. Badlam said.

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