AUBURN — Mal Binette headed out with a friend Sunday to pick up some items at Blackie’s Farm Fresh Produce stand on Minot Avenue. Unlike millions on the East Coast bracing for Hurricane Sandy’s arrival Monday, the Auburn woman took the storm warnings in stride as she made her purchases.

“We’re all prepared at the house. I’m always ready,” Binette said. “Hell, I’m a Mainer. I stay prepared.”

Millions raced down the aisles of grocery stores, hardware stores — even convenience stores — in search of last-minute items. Binette said she keeps her freezer fully stocked and always has extra batteries and candles on hand in case of power outages or emergencies.

Barely a year after Tropical Storm Irene roared through northern New England, residents braced again for more heavy rains, high winds and widespread power outages from another massive storm approaching the region.

Headed north from the Caribbean, Hurricane Sandy is expected to collide with a wintry storm moving in from the west and cold air streaming down from the Arctic. The resulting megastorm should arrive in Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont on Monday, with sustained winds of 30 to 40 mph and gusts of 50 to 60 mph and higher.

Eric Schwibs, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service, said the storm’s biggest threat to the region isn’t rain but high winds sustained over a period of time. Although cities and towns along Maine’s coast are expected to see flood damage, Schwibs does not expect flash flooding along rivers and streams.

Androscoggin, Oxford, Franklin and Cumberland counties are all under high wind warnings until 8 a.m. Tuesday, and Cumberland County is also under a coastal flooding warning. Schwibs said the region could expect winds between 25 to 40 mph with gusts up 60 and 70 mph in higher elevations.

“People are getting ready for flooded basements,” said Travis Pontbriand, manager of Petro’s Ace Hardware & Landscape Center in Auburn. “Half the people you ask think it’s real, and half the people think it’s media hype, so you can’t really tell.”

Pontbriand said the Minot Avenue store saw a steady stream of customers throughout the day Sunday. Some of the most popular supplies flying off the shelves included batteries, lamp oil, kerosene, propane, sump pumps and sump pump hoses. He said most people were expecting power outages due to the heavy winds expected with Hurricane Sandy.

Locals are thinking a lot like Central Maine Power, which even called in extra crews from Canada in anticipation of heavy weather. CMP spokesman John Carroll said the utility company is working closely with the Maine Emergency Management Agency and the governor’s office in order to coordinate efforts.

Carroll said Gov. Paul LePage issued a limited emergency declaration on Friday to suspend driving restrictions that would have slowed the arrival of crews from other states and Canada.

“We’re preparing for widespread outages,” Carroll said. “When you have a lot of wind and rain over a sustained time, the ground gets very soft and trees will topple over.”

On Sunday the company issued a statement warning customers to make preparations for the possibility of multiple-day outages. The company expects high winds and heavy rain could topple trees and bring down power lines, especially along the coast.

“We’re cleaning up so nothing is blown around,” said Harry Finn of Machias, who was helping his girlfriend, Gina Gaetani of Auburn. “Hopefully we don’t get anything, but you never know.”

Finn and Gaetani made their way to Petro’s in search of kerosene for her generator. Gaetani said they cleaned most of the furniture off the porch of her home and stored anything that could have blown away in the garage.

Bruce Fitzgerald, deputy director of the Maine Emergency Management Agency, said the state agency has met via conference calls all last week with local EMA officials in preparation for Monday’s arrival of Hurricane Sandy. The entire group will meet in Augusta Monday morning to ensure counties are prepared for the storm.

“People need to be prepared for power outages and high winds,” Fitzgerald said. “Treat this storm seriously. It’s still a strong storm.”

The Associated Press contributed to this story.


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