FirstEnergy prepares for high winds, heavy rain ahead of Hurricane Sandy

*WATCH huge Lake Erie waves crashing from storm*

CLEVELAND - As Hurricane Sandy moves up the East Coast, FirstEnergy is getting its workers and resources ready to help restore power after the storm strikes.

In New Jersey and eastern Pennsylvania, Hurricane Sandy is expected to produce torrential rain and high winds, along with inland and coastal severe flooding. Wet snow and high winds are forecasted for Ohio, western Maryland, West Virginia and central Pennsylvania.

Northeast Ohio is under a High Wind Warning until 4 p.m. Tuesday. We could see 60-70 mph wind gusts. We also have a Flood Watch in effect until Tuesday evening and a Lakeshore Flood Warning for Erie, Lorain, Cuyahoga, Lake and Ashtabula counties through 8 p.m. Tuesday. The south shore of Lake Erie is expected to rise 3 inches. Combined with 15+ foot waves, the storm will cause flooding and erosion on the shoreline. I-90 may be impacted in Cleveland.

The utility company  has dispatched about 200 linemen and 1,000 support personnel to New Jersey.

"We have mobilized our internal crews and support personnel to assist in the restoration process if the storm causes large-scale power outages," said Steven Strah, vice president of distribution support for the utility. "We have secured outside utility crews, electrical contractors and tree contractors and continue our efforts to locate even more line crews from other utilities through our membership in mutual assistance organizations."

Heavy rain could also lead to trouble in Northeast Ohio. "When we have a lot of rain, that also causes problems because it loosens the ground to a point where the trees might be able to be blown over by the winds into our equipment," said Mark Durbin, a FirstEnergy spokesperson.

FirstEnergy customer call centers will be fully staffed. If you're without power, you can call 1-888-LIGHTSS (1-888-544-4877) to report the outage or click the "Report Outage" link online at www.firstenergycorp.com.

While many local stores, Lowe's and Home Depot, are sold out of generators, if you do already have one, you should make sure it's selected and installed by a qualified, licensed electrician.

When operating a generator, the power coming into the home should always be disconnected. Otherwise, power from the generator could be sent back onto the utility lines, creating a hazardous situation for utility workers and the public.

In addition, generators should only be used outdoors and only in well-ventilated areas.

For updated information on FirstEnergy's storm preparation efforts, current outages, the company's storm restoration process and tips for staying safe, visit www.firstenergycorp.com/outages.

If you were planning on flying out to the East Coast or expecting visitors from the East Coast, all flights have been canceled.

Depending on the severity of the storm's impact on the electrical system, customers are encouraged to stay safe by preparing for the possibility of power outages lasting up 10 days:

- If you have a water well and pump, keep an emergency supply of bottled water and consider filling your bathtub with fresh water.
- Keep a flashlight and extra batteries handy. Use care when burning candles; open flames are a fire hazard.
- If power goes out, unplug appliances like refrigerators and freezers, and sensitive electronic equipment like TVs and computers, so that they won't overload when power is restored.
- Gather extra blankets or a sleeping bag for each person. Portable heaters and burning candles that are left unattended, especially around children and pets, can create a fire hazard.
- Gasoline or diesel-powered generators and appliances can produce deadly levels of carbon monoxide and should never be operated inside the home or garage.
- Stock an emergency supply of convenience foods that do not require cooking.
- Download the newsnet5.com Storm Shield app for custom weather alerts on your smartphone.
- Have a hard-wired phone or charged cellphone handy in the event you need to report your electricity is out. Mobile phones can be charged in your car when power is out. A smartphone can be used to access online information.
- Stay out of flooded basements, even if the power is off. Stay away from the breaker box if it's in a flooded basement.
- Always report downed wires immediately to your electric company or local police/fire department.
- Never go near a downed power line, even if they think it's no longer carrying electricity.

On a weather-related note, the strong winds expected may impact a number of Ohio BMV Deputy Registrar locations. Call ahead to check if your nearest location is open: http://bmv.ohio.gov/county_lst.stm .

You can submit your severe storm photos to us here: http://5.wews.com/eQDPC.

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