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Coast Guard ‘Preparing for the Worst’

Captain urges boaters to heed warnings to stay off water.

Heed the warnings, batten down the hatches and be prepared for the worst. That’s the message U.S. Coast Guard Capt. Joseph Vojvodich conveyed Friday afternoon under bright blue skies at the New Haven base in Connecticut.

As Hurricane Irene draws closer to New York and Connecticut, the Coast Guard’s 550 active duty members are making preparations so they are ready to respond to what is being described as one of the most severe storms to come our way in almost 50 years.

Boats are being fueled. Smaller crafts are being pulled from the water. Authorization to call in its 180-strong reserve force has come through.

“We’re in the business to be prepared,” said Vojvodich, whose territory stretches along the 332 miles of Connecticut’s coast into the Long Island Sound, and encompasses both shores of Long Island and 200 miles into the Atlantic Ocean.

The storm could dump upwards of one foot of rain, Vojvodich said.

“This is the real deal,” he said. “The state is definitely going to be affected.”

To what extent remains to be seen, but regardless, Vojvodich stressed the importance for residents to be informed and prepared. And not to procrastinate.

“Don’t wait till the last minute,” he said.

Develop a plan and create a safety kit with water and other essential supplies like food and medicine. The American Red Cross has a complete list of what to include in a preparedness kit.

Vojvodich recommended that boat owners pull their vessels from the water, if possible. Relocation is another option, if time permits.

If the boat can’t be moved, Vojvodich said owners should take extra precaution to secure the vessel and all equipment on the dock. He suggested:

  • Secure sails.
  • Drop anchor.
  • Set up extra fenders/buoys.
  • Secure any and all items on the dock.

As for the Coast Guard, crews are well trained and ready to respond. Preparations have been in the works for more than a week, Vojvodich said. And communication lines are open and in use between the Coast Guard and state and local emergency operation centers.

The Coast Guard’s larger fleet, including a new 65-foot boat, will be at the ready. But its smaller crafts will be in garages to protect them from damage. As a result, at the peak of the storm, “We’re going to be in a very reduced capacity to respond,” Vojvodich said.

That’s why he said it’s so important for boaters – commercial and private – to stay off the water during the storm.

Even after the storm subsides, he said boaters will need to exercise added caution when navigating waterways and channels. A powerful five- to six-foot storm surge is expected and could disrupt the contour of the ocean floor, potentially reducing water depth in certain areas.

As Vojvodich spoke, Connecticut State Police left the base in their vessel. Coast Guard officers refueled another.

“We’re getting ready to disperse the boats,” said Petty Officer Second Class Justin Nash, of Glastonbury, Conn. “We’re pretty well prepared.”

Nash, a 10-year veteran of the Coast Guard, responded to Hurricane Katrina and two or three others when he was stationed in North Carolina. He said Irene probably won’t measure up to those, but it’s always important to be ready for the worst.

That includes Coast Guard families, who are left to fend for themselves while these men and women protect residents.

“It’s important to make sure our families are taken care of,” Nash said.

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