Westerly, RI
Westerly, RI Creative Common

The tiny state of Rhodes Island is bracing for what's expected to be a huge storm on Sunday.

Governor Lincoln D. Chafee declared an immediate state of emergency on Friday ahead of Hurricane Irene

“I have been monitoring the path and movement of the storm closely, and there is no doubt that Rhode Island will be hit with high winds, a storm surge, and rain generated by Hurricane Irene,” said Chafee in a statement.

“This declaration of emergency is a proactive step in our hurricane plan to ensure that we as a state are doing all we can to get Rhode Island through this storm safely and securely.”

Chaffee added: “I want to stress that this is a major storm. Individual preparation is essential. Please take the necessary steps to secure your family and property and prepare to evacuate if your municipality issues an evacuation order. I am in close contact with mayors and town managers to ensure that cities and towns have the state support they need to make the best decision for their residents.”

The state’s National Guard has been placed on alert, according to adjutant general, Major General Kevin McBride.

Janice Coit, director of the state Department of Environmental Management, said state beaches will remain open Saturday, but will close Sunday.

Some cities aren’t waiting that long.

The town of Westerly will close all of its beaches at 6 p.m. Friday, while officials are pondering a mandatory evacuation order.

We take it very seriously, a Westerly official told WPRI.com. We're expecting a lot of trees down, a lot of flooding along the shorelines, high winds, damage to properties. Hopefully it won't be too serious - the damage - but we're taking it seriously.

Regarding an evacuation, he added: We're waiting for some guidance from Rhode Island [Emergency Management Agency] and whether the governor's going to make a decision as to a state of emergency, he said. That's going to have a big impact on what we do.

The National Weather Service warned that Rhode Island could endure storm surges of up to eight feet --- with the highest levels expected in Narragansett and Buzzards bays.

Much of Rhode Island is also under a flood watch.

Bill Simpson, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service told the Providence Journal that Rhode island will likely miss the eye of the storm, but put the state in the wind's bull's-eye.”

The possibility exists for five to 10 inches of rainfall somewhere in Southern New England, the weather service said.

Strong wind gusts could down trees and power lines, while flash floods are also a strong possibility.

It is too early to provide exact wind and surge forecast values for specific locations, the weather service said. Much depends on the precise size ... intensity and track of the system as it approaches the coast.

Elderly Rhode Islanders may recall that the state suffered huge losses and deaths during the Great Hurricane of 1938 that hammered it as a Category 3 tempest.

That storm produced tides of up to 25 feet and killed 100 people in the town of Westerly alone.