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Conn. utilities seek extra workers ahead of storm

HARTFORD, Conn. -- With forecasts of a powerful storm ahead, Connecticut's governor urged people to stock up on food and water, electric utilities requested thousands of extra workers and the Navy base in Groton prepared Friday in case it has to send submarines out into the ocean.

It was not exactly clear what conditions the state would face, but forecasters said residents could feel the effects by late Sunday as Hurricane Sandy moves up the East Coast and possibly collides with a winter storm moving across the country and frigid air from Canada.

For the state's utilities, the storm could be the biggest test since the October 2011 snowstorm that left hundreds of thousands without power for days. And to those looking to enjoy Halloween, it could mean a repeat of last year.

"I was at work and we saw it on the news and I was like, `Oh great, just what we need is another Halloween totally ruined by a storm,'" said Lauren Niezabitowski, 22, of Simsbury.

Northeast Utilities' Connecticut Light & Power unit, the state's largest utility, was requesting 2,700 linemen and tree workers to help with restoration work and cleanup in the aftermath. William Quinlan, senior vice president for emergency preparedness at CL&P, said the request was made to utilities in the Midwest, far from where the storm is expected to hit.

"We're obviously taking this storm very seriously," Quinlan said.

Michael West, a spokesman for United Illuminating, said 500 contract workers were arriving Friday and Saturday. He said the utility also requested 300 workers in mutual assistance agreements with other utilities.

While the latest forecasts had the hurricane striking near New Jersey or the mid-Atlantic, officials warned the storm could bring Connecticut damaging winds and as much as 7 to 14 inches of rain over 36 hours. Gov. Dannel P. Malloy urged coastal residents in particular to take precautions.

"Be forewarned, assume that you will be in the midst of flooding conditions, the likes of which you may not have seen at any of the major storms that have occurred over the last 30 years," Malloy said.

Malloy said he would partially open the Emergency Operations Center on Saturday morning.

The governor said the state is better prepared that it was last year, when CL&P was harshly criticized by state officials for missing promised targets for restoring power. State legislation passed earlier this year gave regulators tighter oversight and the ability to impose fines on utilities, which can face penalties of up to $10,000 per offense for failing to restore power after an outage of 48 hours.

Millstone Power Station, Connecticut's nuclear power plant in Waterford, will consider shutting down the only reactor that is currently active, if winds in the area approach 90 mph, spokesman Ken Holt said.

"We're in the getting ready stage," he said. "We are walking down the station, looking for any materials that could become flying debris and securing those."

In Groton, Naval Submarine Base spokesman Christopher Zendan said Navy officials will be watching forecasts closely to decide whether it will be necessary to sortie the in-port subs in the next 24 to 36 hours.

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Associated Press writers Stephen Singer, Susan Haigh and Pat Eaton-Robb contributed to this report.