Gov. Paul LePage today declared a statewide emergency to enable state, county and municipal governments to respond to the impact of Hurricane Irene, as Mainers across the state scrambled to prepare for the massive storm.

The National Weather Service issued a tropical storm watch from the mouth of the Merrimack River in Massachusetts to Eastport.

LePage’s proclamation authorizes state agencies to use all available resources and personnel as necessary to cope with the emergency situation. Forecasts showed the storm arriving in Maine on Sunday night.

LePage issued the disaster proclamation this afternoon after speaking with his emergency management team and other senior advisers.

“I urge all Maine citizens to take necessary steps to prepare and heed all warnings issued in connection with this event,” LePage said in a statement.

LePage said his office is receiving updates about the storm from with Maine Emergency Management Agency, the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the National Weather Service.

The state announced that all coastal Maine state parks and several inland parks – a total of 27 — will be closed for day use on Sunday in anticipation of Hurricane Irene’s arrival.

Campers at state park campgrounds throughout Maine also are being warned by park staff of the approach of the hurricane, which is expected to bring high winds and gusts of up to 70 mph and an anticipated 2-foot storm surge.

Workers with the Maine Bureau of Parks and Lands will be on duty to monitor the closed parks and to warn the public to stay away from the expected high winds and strong surf. Officials have already begun monitoring for erosion at Popham Beach State Park in Phippsburg.

Two Maine state parks, Warren Island State Park, located in Penobscot Bay off Lincolnville, and Eagle Island State Historic Site, located off South Harpswell, will close Saturday. Campers at Warren Island are being evacuated off the island, and staff are leaving both islands, according to the Maine Bureau of Parks and Lands.

The National Park Service announced today that it will close the Blackwoods and Seawall Campgrounds at Acadia National Park at 10 a.m. on Sunday because of the predicted path of the hurricane.

The campgrounds will reopen when the storm has passed.

In addition, the Duck Harbor Campground on Isle au Haut will close on Saturday at 11 a.m. and will reopen when conditions are safe.

In Portland, city crews are preparing for Irene by clearing catch basins and cutting tree limbs. Floating docks will be transported from Great Diamond Island and Little Diamond Island and secured at city docks at the Maine State Pier on Saturday.

Portland officials today urged residents to prepare for the hurricane by collecting emergency supplies, such as a radio, a flashlight and nonperishable food. Officials also urged residents to bring any outdoor furniture inside their house to prevent it from becoming a projectile.

Mayor Nicholas Mavodones said residents should offer assistance to their elderly neighbors.

“This is a time to reach out and offer a helping hand,” Mavodones said at a press conference at City Hall.

Portland Fire Chief Fred LaMontagne said the highest danger for the harbor and islands will occur on Sunday at high tide at 11 p.m.

City officials said they have yet to determine whether they plan to open any shelters. Officials will hold a press conference at 10 a.m. on Saturday.

For non-emergency needs, people should call public services dispatch at 874-8493. People should call 911 for any emergencies, Mavodones said.

Casco Bay Lines will suspend vehicle service to Peaks Island at some point on Sunday. The Bailey Island Cruise and Bailey Island Noontime Cruise have been canceled for Sunday.

The storm will bring an unusually high tide of 11 feet, accompanied by a storm surge of 2 feet, plus high winds and rogue waves that could do extensive damage to vulnerable sections of Maine’s coast, according to Stephen Dickson, a marine geologist with the Maine Geological Survey.

“This is the Patriot’s Day Storm of April 2007 all over again, with a shorter duration and stronger wind,” Dickson said today in a statement. “We now are evaluating potential beach erosion damage in comparison to past storms.”

The storm could also cause some bank erosion, slope failures and potentially small landslides occurring along the coast or riverbanks due to flooding and several inches of rainfall, Dickson said.
He said the beach erosion will be similar to some past nor’easters.

Opening of the Windsor Fair will not occur Sunday, prompted by safety concerns from a strengthening Hurricane Irene.

The fair’s board decided this morning to postpone the opening of the fair to 1 p.m. Monday to allow the wind and rain to pass and give exhibitors time to set up on Monday morning.