RICHMOND, Va. - Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell declared a state of emergency Friday in preparation for an anticipated super-storm that officials said will begin to be felt in much of the state on Saturday.
While there's some uncertainty of the storm's track, the governor's office said all forecasts call for significant impacts to Virginia over the weekend and early next week. Emergency officials said it wouldn't take a direct hit for the state to see significant effects, calling it a "longhaul event" that could knock out power up until Election Day.
"This is still an unpredictable weather event but one that is a possibly very dangerous weather event for the Commonwealth of Virginia," McDonnell said at a news briefing. "We're used to having hurricanes, we're just not used to having one in late October."
Hurricane Sandy, which weakened to a category 1 hurricane Thursday night in the Caribbean, is expected to blend with a winter storm to hit the East Coast. The storm already has killed more than two dozen people.
Laura Southard, a spokeswoman for the Virginia Department of Emergency Management, said the eastern half of the state should begin seeing rain by Saturday afternoon, with tropical storm force gusts and sustained winds in some areas up to 70 mph. Widespread power outages, downed trees and flooding are expected to follow as the storm passes Tuesday or Wednesday.
"The deal with this storm is it doesn't matter if we get a direct hit or not. It is so big and widespread and of such a nature that we could expect impacts in Virginia similar to Irene," she said.
Hurricane Irene killed five people, knocked out power to 1.1 million _ the second-largest power outage in state history _ and did $182 million in damage in August 2011.
Southard said residents should be prepared for extended power outages and should stock up on nonperishable food, batteries, gas and other supplies.
"People should be getting their supplies together and be done with their preparations by Saturday afternoon or so and be ready to hunker down," she said.
In Chesapeake, Doug Lane was doing just that. He was filling jugs with 15 to 20 gallons of gas and topping off a 5-gallon container of diesel for his generator.
"Just in case," he said, "because people make a run on the gas stations if it gets really bad. If not, we just pour it into the car afterwards."
The Virginia Department of Transportation said Friday that crews stand ready across the state to respond to any unsafe traveling conditions and damage resulting from the storm. The Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services also encouraged farmers to prepare for power outages, as well as structural or crop damage. And the Coast Guard also urged mariners to heed warnings and take necessary precautions.
Dominion Virginia Power said Friday it is mobilizing thousands of crews, including some from other states, to deal with expected power outages.
"What makes this particular event very concerning are the public safety threats to our customers and to our employees who will be out in the elements," Dominion spokesman David Botkins said. "We're looking at snow in parts of the state, extreme rain in other parts of the state, high winds, and so it's got all of the various ingredients that make traveling very, very difficult. That's why it's so important that people prepare now."
Storms this late in the hurricane season are not unheard of. Virginia was hit by a big storm around the time three years ago, and the remnants of a tropical storm caused historic flooding in some western parts of the state on Election Day in 1985.
"Hurricane season goes through the end of November," she said. "We say it every year and here's a good reason people should pay attention to it."
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