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Rhode Island Braces For Tropical Storm Henri

SUSAN DAVIS, HOST:

Henri is already dropping rain on New England and hitting the coast with high winds. The tropical storm spent much of yesterday as a hurricane and is expected to officially make landfall this afternoon. Mark Rooney is the town manager of Westerly, R.I., and joins us now. Thanks so much for taking the time.

MARK ROONEY: You're welcome.

DAVIS: Other officials in the region today say they're expecting something akin to Superstorm Sandy. Is that what you're preparing for?

ROONEY: That is exactly what we're preparing for because we're - with the high tide of the full moon - causes about a 3-foot rise naturally, and then the 3 to 5 feet of storm surge could be very detrimental because it'll breach the dunes and bring sand and water inland. And that - it leaves a lot of sand on the road and causes a lot of infrastructure issues.

DAVIS: So what kind of preparations are you making, and what have you been telling your constituents about how to prepare for the storm?

ROONEY: Well, we've issued a shelter-in-place at about 9:30 this morning, and we had a temporary - or a recommended evacuation of the area that is most prone to the storm surge. And we're - at this time, we're closing off some of the access roads into the most prone flooding areas on - along the shore.

DAVIS: Have folks been listening to the evacuation order? I know, oftentimes, people decide to stick around even when they're told to leave.

ROONEY: For the most part, they did. The hotels, I think, had check-out this morning in the affected region. And so some of those visitors did leave the cottages or their Airbnb. But we do have - we still continue to have people that come in to the area because they see the Weather Channel. But we do have police cars advising people to leave those areas.

DAVIS: Can you talk us through the preparations that you've made and what you're telling your constituents about how to weather the storm?

ROONEY: Well, we've issued a shelter-in-place to every resident of the community. And in the heavily impacted areas, we have police blocking access into those areas and escorting people out that have gotten in there to do observation or - we had surfers earlier in the day. So those all have been moved out of the area.

DAVIS: What's your biggest concern right now in terms of safety?

ROONEY: Downed power lines. I saw some preemptive shutdowns of gas lines in the beach areas to preclude any problems to the system overall. And they do have crews that will work to restore power as long as the winds are below 35 miles an hour. So they have been working, even in the storm, to restore power. We've got scattered power outages but not widespread.

DAVIS: It's been nearly 30 years since a storm of this measure has affected the New England area. Do you think that the local area is more prepared for a storm like this now?

ROONEY: The communication systems are much more robust now in the coordination between the fire district, national grid and the town, and then we have state assets, as well. That cooperation and interdepartmental level of training is there, and we find that the fire department - they have been staffed up and very responsive this morning to any trees on roads and opening them up within 30 minutes.

DAVIS: All right. That's Mark Rooney. He's town manager of Westerly, R.I. Thank you so much for your time.

ROONEY: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.