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Toby Talbot, Associated Press
Public Safety Commissioner Keith Flynn holds a news conference on at the emergency operations center on Monday, Oct. 29, 2012 in Waterbury, Vt. Vermont electric utilities are seeing the first scattered power outages as the state braces for the arrival of Hurricane Sandy. Hurricane Sandy continued on its path Monday, as the storm forced the shutdown of mass transit, schools and financial markets, sending coastal residents fleeing, and threatening a dangerous mix of high winds and soaking rain.

MONTPELIER, Vt. — Winds up to 80 mph could be felt from southern Vermont through the Canadian border as the leading edge of Hurricane Sandy begins to arrive in the state Monday afternoon and overnight, potentially knocking down trees and power lines and causing widespread power outages, state emergency management officials said Monday.

While Sandy isn't expected to dump the huge amounts of rain on the state that Tropical Storm Irene did last year, rainfall of three to four inches is possible, especially in southern Vermont, bringing with it the threat of localized flooding.

"Because Sandy will turn into what we call an extra-tropical system, kind of like a giant powerful Nor'easter, the wind field is going to be tremendous and you are going to see damaging winds all the way up to the Canadian border," said Scott Whittier, warning coordination meteorologist for the National Weather Service in Burlington.

The winds are expected to begin picking up Monday afternoon. The peak is expected from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. and continuing until 2 a.m. to 4 a.m., and then diminish. The western slopes of the Green Mountains could see gusts as high as 80 mph. The top of Mount Mansfield, Vermont's tallest peak, could see gusts of 100 mph, said Whittier, who spoke at a news conference at Vermont Emergency Management headquarters in Waterbury.

Public Safety Commissioner Keith Flynn said the operations center began 24 hour operations Monday morning and would remain open until the storm has passed, probably sometime Wednesday.

"As Gov. Shumlin said yesterday, we need to be mindful that there is a great deal of anxiety in the state based upon our recent experiences with (Tropical Storm) Irene," Vermont Public Safety Commissioner Keith Flynn said at a late morning news conference . "And the best way we can respond to that anxiety level as a state is to be prepared, to be aware, to be mindful of what's happening around us. We believe that if we take those precautions, if we have the resources that we need, hopefully it will serve to reduce the anxiety level and will help our response in a meaningful way."

Emergency workers, police, utility crews and the National Guard are all on standby to react as needed to the storm, officials said.

Green Mountain Power, Vermont's dominant electric utility, had 250 line crews from other states and Canada ready to respond to power outages. Scattered outages were reported across the state as of early afternoon.

Vermont is still recovering from 2011's Tropical Storm Irene, which killed six, destroyed or damaged hundreds of miles of roads and bridges and left hundreds homeless.

"We get nervous every time it rains, honestly. I don't think I'm alone. I've heard that up and down our river valley here," said Gail Nunziata, general manager of the historic Latchis Hotel and Theater in Brattleboro.

The Latchis is still trying to pay off more than $600,000 in lost business and other costs seen after the Whetstone Brook flooded during Irene and inundated the basement, wiping out its heating and electrical systems and forcing it to close for 46 days.

Sandy is expected to bring more high winds than high water, but Nunziata says the Latchis could be vulnerable. It has hundreds of windows, including big plate-glass ones in the lobby.

AP reporter Dave Gram contributed to this report from Montpelier, Vt.