BOSTON (Reuters) - Not fooled by a warm, calm, sunny Friday, New Englanders scurried to prepare for a potentially devastating hurricane on track to pummel the Northeast United States over the weekend.
While some residents flocked to the supermarket for bottled water and nonperishable food, others rushed to the local hardware store as Hurricane Irene churned northward.
"Our number of customers has tripled in the last day or two as people actually said 'wow, this thing is going to happen,'" said Jack Gurnon, owner of Charles Street Supply, a hardware store in Boston's wealthy Beacon Hill neighborhood.
Tape for windows, flashlights and batteries were flying off shelves, but Gurnon said people were worried about flooding and have been scooping up sump pumps, too.
Heavy rainfall, more than 10 inches in some locations, is likely to pummel southern New England on Saturday and Sunday, along with the possibility of coastal flooding, according to the National Weather Service.
High winds will also be a feature, which could result in significant and prolonged power outages, said Bill Simpson, meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Taunton, Massachusetts.
"All parts of southern New England could see potentially hurricane force winds, with gusts around 80 mph," he said.
A hurricane watch was issued for much of coastal southern New England including Cape Cod and its neighboring islands in Massachusetts, along with parts of Connecticut and Rhode Island.
A tropical storm watch is in effect further inland, and flooding is a concern for New Hampshire and Vermont.
Irene would be the first hurricane to make landfall in New England since 1991's Hurricane Bob, blamed for several deaths in the region.
WEDDING GOES ON
Despite the dire forecast, a wedding party due to arrive on Saturday at an elegant colonial inn nestled on Connecticut's waterfront was sticking to its schedule.
"They are coming, no matter what," said Anne Henson, manager of the Inn at Stonington.
Henson expected people to stay past a planned Sunday departure and said she has plenty of wine and cheese on hand to feed the group.
"We have air mattresses and cots, so if someone needs to stay we will have somewhere dry for them," Henson said.
Connecticut has already declared a state of emergency to handle the severe weather.
At Mystic Seaport, a popular "living history" museum in Connecticut which depicts 19th century New England seacoast life, staff members were hauling parts of the collections to higher ground. The museum will be closed on Saturday and Sunday as staffers load up sandbags.
"Our primary responsibility at this time is to protect our collection," said Mystic Seaport president Steve White. "So much of what we have here is irreplaceable and we need some time to make sure it will survive any kind of storm intact."
Boston baseball fans will be treated to a double-header on Saturday after the Red Sox pushed a scheduled Sunday outing against the Oakland Athletics to Saturday.
Thundershowers are expected on Saturday, but the teams hope to get both games in before drenching rain moves in Saturday night.
On Martha's Vineyard and Nantucket, islands off the coast of Cape Cod, many vacationers fled ahead.
"People are leaving the island quickly," said Fishbones Grille general manager David Henry on Martha's Vineyard.
Despite fewer customers, Henry said he'll make a last-minute decision on whether to shut down the restaurant. Last year he closed up well ahead of Hurricane Earl, which failed to slam the region as expected.
In Rhode Island, the Block Island Ferry planned to stop running between the vacation spot and the mainland on Saturday afternoon. It has deployed more boats to manage the throngs of people trying to get off the island, a ferry spokesman said.
Captain Earl Bell, who runs Aces Wild RI Fishing Charters from Jerusalem, Rhode Island, called customers to cancel tours Saturday through Monday, and is busy hauling his boats out of harm's way.
After fishing the Ocean State's waters for 30 years and living through three serious hurricanes, Bell said he wasn't about to take chances on Irene.
"Today it is flat, calm, gorgeous down here, but there is virtually no one left and there are no boats in the water," Bell said describing the normally busy harbor as a virtual ghost town.
"You don't want to take chances with this," he said.