Freeholder Director Joseph H. Vicari has declared a state of emergency throughout Ocean County ahead of Hurricane Irene.
Vicari made the announcement at a press conference at the Ocean County Office of Emergency Management at the Robert J. Miller Airpark in Berkeley Township.
"Our goal is we don't want one life lost," Vicari said. "In our lifetimes, this is the biggest hurricane we've ever experienced."
Hurricane Irene is expected to be a "high Category 1" by the time the county begins to feel tropical force winds at noon on Saturday. The winds may or may not be accompanied by rain at first, said Michael Osborne, chief of the Ocean County Sheriff's Department.
Rain and wind will steadily increase into the evening hours on Saturday. The worst part of the storm should come in the early morning hours, Osborne said after the press conference.
All area hospitals in Ocean County are equipped with emergency generators and will be operating. The Ocean County Utilities Authority also has emergency generators in case of loss of power, Vicari said.
Ocean County Road Supervisor Thomas Curcio said crews are prepared for the storm with equipment and chainsaws.
"We're clearing the storm drains," he said. "We are planning on a lot of trees going down with the saturated ground. We feel we are ready for what's going to come our way."
Each municipality makes the decision to order mandatory or voluntary evacuations, County Administrator Carl W. Block said.
Residents who do not have to evacuate should "stay in the safety of your homes," Block said.
"We have crews deployed to open the roads and get the transportation open as soon as possible," he said. "This will not be something where you will see it go by Sunday afternoon and you'll be out playing basketball."
Ocean County Director of Senior Services Jane Maloney said the county will continue to deliver meals to "very frail" elderly and ill residents on Satuday, with the exception of Long Beach Island.
People who have been ordered to evacuate must comply, Vicari said.
"We are telling people their lives are in danger," he said. "It will happen. Don't be complacent. We can't stop 100 mile an hour winds. We can't stop a storm surge."
Vicari asked all county residents to use 911 only in an emergency. All other calls should be directed to local municipal police departments.
Vicari said he received a call from Gov. Chris Christie last night at home to discuss evacuation plans, especially on Long Beach Island.
"The governor made it very clear," Vicari said. "All the traffic will be leaving the island. He's encouraging everyone to leave."
Anyone with any questions may call the Ocean County Office of Emergency Management at 732-341-3451.