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Irene Not to Be Toyed With, Westport Official Says

WESTPORT, Conn. – Westport residents who live along the shore or other flood-prone areas won't be required to evacuate on account of Hurricane Irene . However, riding out the storm is something Westport First Selectman Gordon Joseloff strongly discourages.

"This storm is not to be toyed with," Joseloff said during a Friday afternoon press conference. "There will be people who will be reluctant to leave. This is not, I think, the [storm] to test riding out."

During a meeting with emergency management officials before the press conference, Joseloff declared a local civil preparedness emergency in Westport. This declaration empowers him to take various actions, including recommending partial or full evacuations from specific areas of town, imposing travel and parking restrictions, and requesting state or federal assistance and financial aid.

If a decision to recommend evacuations is made, police and firefighters will visit residents in flood-prone areas beginning mid-day Saturday. If residents choose not to evacuate, Joseloff said they will be asked to provide next of kin contacts.

Residents who decide to stay in their homes may also want to consider marking a part of their body with their name in case emergency responders have to identify bodies, Joseloff added, as the storm surge is expected to be "very high and very powerful."

"That's an extreme measure, but I think it conveys the seriousness with which we're viewing the issue," Joseloff said.

Residents in flood-prone areas who don't evacuate run the risk of being isolated for days, Joseloff said. For Fire Chief Andrew Kingsbury, this is particularly concerning.

"We're very worried if you don't evacuate your house, we won't have the ability to get to you if there's a fire" or other emergency, Kingsbury said.

Outside of flooding, Joseloff said the storm is expected to cause power outages. Connecticut Light and Power even warned that power may be out for days, even weeks, he said.

As previously announced , Long Lots Elementary School, located at 13 Hyde Lane, will open as an emergency evacuation center at 6 p.m. Saturday. Joseloff said any residents who wish to seek shelter at the school won't be turned away if they arrive before 6.

Residents thinking about staying there are advised to bring their own bedding, towels and sleeping bags. Some cots will be available and hot meals will be served. Residents are welcome to bring pets, but must bring their own pet food and cages.

Residents who decide to go to the shelter must be prepared to be there for a while, Joseloff added.

Acting Police Chief Dale Call advised any residents who can leave town, to do so before the storm begins. Residents remaining in town should stay in their homes and not venture out, he said.

How are you planning to weather the storm? What are your biggest concerns?

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