By Zach Howard
NORTHAMPTON, Mass (Reuters) - Residents of inland areas in Massachusetts loaded up on essential provisions from water to batteries on Friday as New England states urged people to prepare for the barrage of Hurricane Irene this weekend.
Irene is forecast to make landfall in North Carolina on Saturday, packing winds of 100 miles per hour (155 km/hour), before thrusting north toward New York and New England.
In Massachusetts, the storm's most extreme hours are expected to be on Sunday afternoon, local forecasters said.
In Northampton, a bustling college town about 100 miles west of Boston on the Connecticut River, shopping traffic was brisk at River Valley Market, where customers bought up non-perishable food and drinks in case the storm causes a prolonged power outage.
"People want to be stocked up and are looking for things that don't need refrigeration, like summer sausage and, of course, water," said general manager Rochelle Prunty. "I've been busy just now with getting a back up generator in place and wired into our system in case we need it."
At big box stores one mile away, batteries quickly disappeared and shelves were emptying of supplies such as flashlights, diapers, and canned food.
Governor Deval Patrick declared a state of emergency in preparation for the storm, joining Connecticut, Rhode Island and New Hampshire on Friday.
Patrick's action came after the National Weather Service issued a hurricane watch for all of coastal Massachusetts, a tropical storm watch for inland areas, and a flood watch for the entire state.
"We're preparing for a very serious and severe storm," said Sandra Ahearn, spokeswoman at Western Massachusetts Electric Co., who said Irene's predicted gusts of wind up to 70 miles per hour could topple trees and power lines.
The Springfield-based WMECO, which serves 210,000 customers in 59 towns in the region, has scheduled dozens of line, utility and tree crews, some pulled in from as far away as Michigan, to be on the job by Sunday morning.
Local authorities urged residents to be indoors in a secured place by late Saturday evening and then to stay off roads Sunday when intense weather will make driving hazardous.
"Heavy rains and heavy winds, with the probability of hurricane-force gusts and the possibility of sustained hurricane-force winds, are expected," said David Procopio, a spokesman for the Massachusetts State Police.
In case of flooding this weekend, police sent out three all-terrain track-wheeled vehicles to each part of the state for deployment, if needed, Procopio said.
The SUS-Vs are useful in traversing flooded areas. One is being sent to western Massachusetts, another to northeast Massachusetts, and the third to southeastern Massachusetts.
(Reporting by Zach Howard. Editing by Peter Bohan)