Sever thunderstorms

Local emergency management officials are preparing for heavy winds, rain and large hail through tonight and are hopeful the region will be spared another derecho like the one that downed trees and power lines last June.

Residents are being advised to prepare for the possibility that severe weather will leave them without power for an extended period.

National Weather Service meteorologist Walter Drag said warnings may be issued for a tornado and/or severe thunderstorms, with winds as high as 70 to 80 mph, in the area this afternoon.

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“It’s a very potent situation,” he said. “It’s not to be dismissed.”

The storm will also bring heavy rain — as much as an inch — which could cause flooding in low-lying areas and along rivers, but nothing that will cause a significant problem, Drag said.

On June 30, 2012, the region was hit with an unanticipated derecho — a line of severe thunderstorms — that caused several downed wires and trees and power outages for many residents, some for a week or longer. But Drag said he does not expect another derecho for the area. One is being forecast for the Midwest region near Chicago, and reduced winds from that situation could hit South Jersey in the morning, he said.

Atlantic County Emergency Management Coordinator Vince Jones said people should make kits with flashlights, water and nonperishable foods in case they don’t have power for a few days. Jones said that if trees and lines are down, crews may be unable to access all of the roads and fix the damage immediately.

Atlantic City Electric officials said employees and contractors are preparing for the storm in case repairs are needed.

Residents should check on infirm or elderly neighbors to make sure they’re OK, Jones said.

Tom Foley, emergency management coordinator for Atlantic City, urged residents to make sure unsecured outdoor items, such as furniture or decorations, are brought inside. The city’s Beach Patrol brought in all of its boats and secured the lifeguard stands on the beach, he said.

“As you say in emergency management, you prepare for the worst and hope for the best,” Foley said. “Hopefully it’s not as bad as last year, but residents must have a plan if they lose power.”

Emergency management officials throughout Cumberland County were monitoring the approaching storm.

About 3,000 homes in the county were damaged in last year’s derecho. Vineland alone suffered an estimated $100 million worth of damage to public and private property.

Crews from Vineland’s Public Works Department were out Wednesday cleaning storm drains and trimming any hanging branches they found, city spokesman Michael Tofanelli said.

The Vineland Municipal Electric Utility, the city-owned electric company, also was making preparations for possible power outages and other problems, he said.

The derecho knocked out power to at least 21,000 of VMEU’s 25,000 customers. Some of those customers did not get power restored to their properties for two weeks because of difficulty work crews had in getting through debris to reach the utility lines.

Mayor Ruben Bermudez is also making radio announcements in English and Spanish, asking city residents to monitor weather reports, Tofanelli said.

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