By Dave Rogers
---- — PLUM ISLAND - Newbury and Newburyport officials are encouraging residents to leave the island starting at 7 p.m. tonight and find shelter elsewhere as Hurricane Sandy is expected to generate 70 mph winds and cause substantial coast flooding during its peak tomorrow afternoon and evening.
"We're strongly recommending that residents evacuate their homes before 9 a.m. Monday morning," Newburyport Emergency Management Director Thomas Howard said this afternoon.
While Hurricane Sandy, currently a Category 1 storm, is expected to make landfall Monday evening along the central New Jersey coastline, high pressure farther north is expected to generate winds as high at 80 mph in Massachusetts, according to the National Weather Service in Taunton.
Newbury Selectman Joe Story said it is possible based on a meeting to be held this evening, that the evacuation will become mandatory as emergency officials are expressing concern that should the storm become too intense it will be becoming impossible to rescue stranded residents.
The American Red Cross is expected to open an emergency shelter at Newbury Elementary School at 8 p.m. with a pet shelter opening at at Perry Way facility in Newburyport.
Howard, the city's police marshal, said starting tomorrow morning, access to Plum Island will be restricted to residents only with a road block set up near Rolf's Lane, adding he hoping the restrictions are limited to Monday only.
Residents are strongly encouraged to check out the Newburyport and Newbury police department's website for updated information throughout the storm. Those in need of help evacuating their homes can call the Newburyport Police Department at 978-462-4411 or the Newbury Police Department at 978-462-4440.