NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) – Sandy is gearing up to pound a third of the U.S. with sheets of rain, high winds and potentially heavy snow in parts.
Millions of coastal residents along the east coast have already been warned to seek higher ground as Sandy continues her track towards our area.
Experts said regardless of where the storm makes landfall, the entire region will be deluged with rain as a result.
President Barack Obama took the day off the campaign trail to instead focus on Sandy’s track up the east coast. He has also issued a federal emergency declaration for New York state.
“At this stage, everybody is confident that the staging process, the prepositioning of resources, commodities, equipment that are going to be needed to respond to the storm are in place,” President Obama said from the National Response Coordination Center at FEMA headquarters Sunday afternoon.
Earlier in the day, the President spoke to New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie about federal assistance for storm damage.
Whatever Hurricane Sandy is called by the time she arrives in the Tri-State Area, experts warn the behemoth storm will trigger widespread damage.
“We’re looking at impact of greater than 50 to 60 million people,” said Louis Uccellini, head of environmental prediction for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
“The time for preparing and talking is about over,” Federal Emergency Management Administrator Craig Fugate warned as a monster Hurricane Sandy headed up the Eastern Seaboard on a collision course with two other weather systems. “People need to be acting now.”
New York City and Philadelphia both announced that mass transit systems would close, and schools were closed Monday in both cities as well as in Washington, Baltimore, Boston and elsewhere. New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg also ordered the evacuation of part of lower Manhattan and other low-lying neighborhoods.
“If you don’t evacuate, you are not only endangering your life, you are also endangering the lives of the first responders who are going in to rescue you,” he said. “This is a serious and dangerous storm.”
Tens of thousands of people along the coast in Delaware, New Jersey, Connecticut and other threatened areas were also under orders to clear out because of the danger of as much as a foot of rain, punishing winds of 80 mph or higher and a potentially deadly wall of water 4 to 11 feet high. Communities opened shelter across the region.
Sandy was headed north from the Caribbean, where it left nearly five dozen people dead, and was expected to hook left toward the mid-Atlantic coast and come ashore late Monday or early Tuesday, most likely in New Jersey, colliding with a wintry storm moving in from the west and cold air streaming down from the Arctic.
Forecasters warned that the resulting megastorm could wreak havoc over 800 miles from the East Coast to the Great Lakes. Parts of West Virginia, Virginia, Kentucky and North Carolina could get snow – 2 feet or more in places.
Witlet Maceno, an emergency room nurse working at New York City’s Mount Sinai Hospital, was headed home to Staten Island on Sunday morning after his overnight shift. He said he was going home to check on his parents, visiting from Atlanta, before he returned to work Sunday evening.
“I’m making sure they’re OK, that they have water and food, and that the windows are shut tight,” he said. “And I’m going to remove stuff outside that could go flying into the windows” of his street-level apartment.
The danger was hardly limited to coastal areas, with forecasters worried about inland flooding. They also warned that the rain could saturate the ground, causing trees to topple onto power lines and cause blackouts that could last for several days.
States of emergency were declared from North Carolina, where gusty winds whipped steady rain on Sunday morning, to Connecticut. Delaware ordered 50,000 people in coastal communities to clear out by 8 p.m. Sunday.
Officials in New York City were particularly worried about the possibility of subway flooding. The city closed the subways before Hurricane Irene last year, and a Columbia University study predicted that an Irene surge just one foot higher would have paralyzed lower Manhattan.
The New York Stock Exchange was also set to close its floor Monday, although electronic trading was set to continue. The stock exchange has only closed previously for Hurricane Gloria in September 1985, and following the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
The storm could make landfall anywhere between Sandy Hook, N.J., and Delaware, but all areas within about 300 miles will see effects. Winds are expected to be blowing between 70 and 80 mph.
The storm was so big that forecasters could not say with any certainty which areas would get the worst of it.
Bobbie Foote said she would heed an evacuation order Sunday for south Wilmington, Del., and would take shelter at her daughter’s home in nearby Newark.
“My daughter insists that I leave this time,” said Foote, a 58-year-old fitness coach. It will be the first time she has fled a storm threatening the apartment building that has been her home for at least 40 years in the working-class neighborhood near the Delaware River.
Foote said she stayed last year when flooding from the remnants of Hurricane Irene blocked streets at either end of the neighborhood. She said her daughter wouldn’t stand for her getting trapped that way again. “She said I should never put myself in that predicament where I cannot get in or out of where I live,” Foote said.
Amtrak began canceling train service Saturday night to parts of the East Coast and planned to suspend nearly all service in the Northeast by Monday night. Airlines started moving planes out of airports to avoid damage and added Sunday flights out of New York and Washington in preparation for flight cancellations on Monday.
1010 WINS Reporter Gary Baumgarten spoke with passengers at JFK Airport…
“We stay here in New York, no hotel,” said Daniel from Brazil, who is en route to Miami with his pregnant wife.
The Virginia National Guard was authorized to call up to 500 troops for debris removal and road-clearing, while homeowners stacked sandbags at their front doors in coastal towns.
In Arlington, just outside Washington, D.C., a few shoppers strolled in and out of a supermarket. Cathy Davis said the supermarket was sold out of the water she wanted to purchase, but she wasn’t doing much else to prepare. She figured she would bring her outdoor furniture inside later in the day, and might make some chili.
She said the storm did lead her to decide against decorating for Halloween.
“I was like, ‘Eh, it will just be blown away anyway,”’ she said. “What’s the point?”
President Obama was monitoring the storm and working with state and locals governments to make sure they get the resources needed to prepare, administration officials said.
In New Jersey, hundreds of coastal residents started moving inland.
Gov. Chris Christie’s emergency declaration will force the shutdown of Atlantic City’s 12 casinos for only the fourth time in the 34-year history of legalized gambling here. City officials said they would begin evacuating the gambling hub’s 30,000 residents at noon Sunday, busing them to mainland shelters and schools.
The storm also forced the presidential campaign to juggle schedules. Mitt Romney scrapped plans to campaign Sunday in Virginia and switched his schedule for the day to Ohio. First lady Michelle Obama canceled an appearance in New Hampshire for Tuesday, and Obama moved a Monday departure for Florida to Sunday night to beat the storm. He also canceled appearances in northern Virginia on Monday and Colorado on Tuesday.
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