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Nor'easter to hinder cleanup in hard-hit community

Erika Niedowski, Associated Press

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) -- A new and unwelcome storm packing strong winds and rain forced some Rhode Island communities hard hit by Superstorm Sandy to suspend recovery efforts Wednesday and state and utility officials to prepare for another round of potential power outages.

In Westerly, which suffered the most damage from Sandy last week, Town Manager Steven Hartford said homeowners have been making "slow but steady" progress. But the nor'easter bearing down on the region prompted the suspension of volunteer operations in the Misquamicut area until Friday and the temporary closure of a drop-off station for the tons of sand that blanketed people's properties.

Sandy knocked out power to more than 120,000 customers in Rhode Island and swept away dunes and other coastal features, leaving properties exposed to rising water and flooding.

Hartford said street flooding is possible with the latest storm and town crews were out cleaning storm drains Wednesday. But no evacuations were planned.

"We're just going to have to wait this storm out," said Hartford, who noted that sand and other debris could blow back into newly cleared streets. "This definitely hampers our efforts, but it won't hamper our spirits."

Strong and potentially damaging winds were forecast for parts of Rhode Island as the storm headed up the East Coast. The National Weather Service issued a wind advisory through 6 a.m. Thursday that covers northern and central Rhode Island, including Providence, Warwick, Smithfield and Bristol.

The forecast called for winds between 15 mph and 25 mph, with gusts possibly up to 50 mph. The winds could down large tree branches and power lines, causing scattered outages. Besides rain, the storm could bring snow, but little accumulation is expected in Rhode Island.

Annemarie Beardsworth, a spokeswoman for the Rhode Island Emergency Management Agency, said the emergency operations center would be activated from Wednesday evening through Thursday morning. She said officials were coordinating with National Grid to respond to any extensive outages. The utility said it had more than 500 crews available to respond, along with more than 200 personnel to handle downed wires.

Beardsworth said a storm surge of the type that Sandy brought wasn't expected from the new storm. But she said communities along the southern coast — including Westerly, Charlestown, South Kingstown and Narragansett — as well as Newport should monitor the storm closely.

"With the new landscape, we're not sure what's going to happen," she said. "We don't know what the path of any coastal floodwaters is."