Millions across East Coast brace for ‘Superstorm’ Sandy, while transit systems close and supplies fly off shelves
Published October 28, 2012
As Hurricane Sandy stayed on track to barrel the East Coast, states of emergency were declared from North Carolina to Connecticut, with residents being evacuated, schools and transit systems shut and food and supplies flying off store shelves in a sure sign people were preparing for the worst.
Sandy was at Category 1 strength, packing 75 mph winds, about 270 miles southeast of Cape Hatteras, N.C., and moving northeast at 14 mph as of 2 p.m. Sunday, according to the National Hurricane Center in Miami. It was about 575 miles south of New York City.
The Hurricane is on path to meet a winter storm and a cold front, plus high tides from a full moon, and experts said the rare hybrid storm that results could cause havoc through 800 miles from the East Coast to the Great Lakes.
Officials raised the storm-related death toll across the Caribbean to 65, with 51 of those coming in Haiti, which was pelted by three days of constant rains that ended only on Friday.
In upstate New York in Syracuse, shelves normally stocked with water at a Wegmans store were bare, CNYCentral.com reports.
An assistant manager at a Lowes store in Columbus, Ohio, told 10TV.com that people were calling in from West Virginia and Maryland to ask for supplies.
And in northern Virginia, a cashier at Pitkins Ace Hardware in Dale City said batteries, flashlights and candles were flying off the shelves, PotomacLocal.com reports.
In New York City, where residents were also packing stores to buy storm-related supplies, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced that the city will suspend its bus, subway and commuter rail service Sunday at 7 p.m. in anticipation of the storm. New Jersey’s PATH train service, which ferries passengers between New York City and New Jersey, announced that it would close starting Monday until further notice. Bridges and tunnels would be closed on a case by case basis, but the New York Stock Exchange would remain open.
New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg ordered the closure of all city public schools for Monday and mandatory evacuations of all low-lying areas. He urged residents in lower Manhattan to call 311 or visit the city’s website for information on evacuation zones. About 1,100 National Guard troops will be deployed to the area, including 400 on Long Island and 200 in New York City, for assistance.
“You don’t want to be over panicked and overly prepared, but you want to be prudent and do what’s necessary,” Cuomo said.
The warning from other officials to anyone who might be affected in the storm’s path was simple: Be prepared and get out of the way. The storm is expected to bring a few days of rain, high winds and possibly heavy snow.
“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 danger was hardly limited to coastal areas. Forecasters were far more worried about inland flooding from storm surge than they were about winds. Rains could saturate the ground, causing trees to topple into power lines, utility officials said, warning residents to prepare for several days at home without power.
States of emergency were declared from North Carolina, where gusty winds whipped steady rain on Sunday morning, to Connecticut. Delaware ordered mandatory evacuations for coastal communities by 8 p.m. Sunday.
“You never want to be too naive, but ultimately, it’s not in our hands anyway,” said Andrew Ferencsik, 31, as he purchased plywood and 2-by-4 lumber from a Home Depot in Lewes, Del.
In North Carolina’s Outer Banks, there was some scattered, minor flooding at daybreak Sunday on the beach road in Nags Head. The bad weather could pick up there later in the day, with the major concerns being rising tides and pounding waves.
The town of Ocean City, Md., has ordered an evacuation of downtown residents by 8 p.m. Sunday as Sandy heads for the Delmarva Peninsula. A voluntary evacuation order has been issued for residents and occupants of known low-lying areas. The town says severe flooding is expected.
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie broke off campaigning for Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney in North Carolina on Friday to return home.
“I can be as cynical as anyone,” said Christie, who declared a state of emergency Saturday. “But when the storm comes, if it’s as bad as they’re predicting, you’re going to wish you weren’t as cynical as you otherwise might have been.”
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. Christie also ordered evacuations for communities along the Jersey Shore and encouraged schools to close Monday.
Philadelphia’s transit agency has announced that it will suspend all services at the end of Sunday.
In Nassau County on Long Island, County Executive Edward P. Mangano said three public shelters will be opened at 1 p.m.
In neighboring Suffolk County, a mandatory evacuation of Fire Island by 2 p.m. Sunday was ordered, with all parks to close at 6 p.m.
The Virginia National Guard was authorized to call up to 500 troops to active duty 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 outside a Giant supermarket. Cathy Davis, 40, 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?”
Amtrak said in a news release Sunday that it was canceling all service north of New York at 7 p.m. Nearly all service across the Eastern Seaboard will be canceled starting Monday
Airlines canceled more than 3,000 flights as of Sunday morning, with hubs along the East Coast bearing the brunt of the disruptions. According to the flight-tracking service FlightAware, 707 flights have been canceled Sunday, with more than 265 cancellations at Newark Airport. For Monday, 2,499 flights are canceled, with 774 cancellations at Newark, followed by 428 at Dulles in Washington and 355 cancellations at Philadelphia.
President Obama said the storm is “serious and big” and will be “slow moving,” while he was at the headquarters of the Federal Emergency Management Agency to get an update on plans for responding to Hurricane Sandy.
The storm also forced the presidential campaign to juggle schedules. 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 planned Monday departure for Florida to Sunday night to beat the storm. He also canceled appearances in Northern Virginia on Monday and Colorado on Tuesday.
Former sailor Ray Leonard, 85, had a bit of advice for those in the path of the storm. Leonard and two crewmates in his 32-foot sailboat, Satori, rode out 1991′s infamous “perfect storm,” made famous by the Sebastian Junger best-selling book of the same name, before being plucked from the Atlantic off Martha’s Vineyard, Mass., by a Coast Guard helicopter.
“Don’t be rash,” Leonard said Saturday from his home in Fort Myers, Fla. “Because if this does hit, you’re going to lose all those little things you’ve spent the last 20 years feeling good about.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.