Hurricane Sandy barrels toward East Coast, expected to bring 'life-threatening' storm surge
Hurricane Sandy continued to barrel towards the East Coast early Monday, threatening some 50 million people with a storm surge the National Hurricane Center called "life-threatening."
As of 5 a.m. Monday, the storm was centered about 385 miles southeast of New York City, moving to the north at 14 mph, with hurricane-force winds extending an incredible 175 miles from its center. The National Hurricane Center said early Monday the storm has intensified, with top sustained winds of 85 mph and higher gusts. Sandy, a Category 1 hurricane, was blamed for 65 deaths in the Caribbean before it began traveling northward, parallel to the Eastern Seaboard.
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 impact 800 miles from the East Coast to the Great Lakes.
Forecasters said the combination could bring close to a foot of rain in places, a potentially lethal storm surge of 4 to 11 feet across much of the region, and punishing winds that could cause widespread power outages that last for days. The storm could also dump up to 2 feet of snow in Kentucky, North Carolina and West Virginia.
States of emergency were declared from North Carolina, where gusty winds whipped steady rain on Sunday, to Connecticut. Delaware ordered mandatory evacuations for coastal communities on Sunday, while Ocean City, Md. was also evacuated.
Authorities warned that New York City could be hit with an 11-foot wall of water that has the potential to swamp parts of lower Manhattan, flood subway tunnels and cripple the network of electrical and communications lines that are vital to the nation's financial center.
Tens of thousands of people were ordered to evacuate in anticipation of the storm, including 375,000 in lower Manhattan and other parts of New York City. At least 50,000 were ordered to evacuate in Delaware alone and 30,000 in Atlantic City, New Jersey, where the city's 12 casinos were forced to shut down for only the fourth time in the 34-year history of legalized gambling there.
Airlines canceled more than 7,200 flights and Amtrak began suspending passenger train service across the Northeast. New York and Philadelphia shut down their subways, buses and commuter trains Sunday night and announced that schools would be closed on Monday. Boston, Washington and Baltimore also called off school. In Washington and New Jersey, Metrorail and PATH train services were canceled.
"The time for preparing and talking is about over," Federal Emergency Management Administrator Craig Fugate said as Hurricane Sandy made its way up the Atlantic on a collision course with two other weather systems that could turn it into one of the most fearsome storms on record in the U.S. "People need to be acting now."
Forecasters said the hurricane could blow ashore Monday night or early Tuesday along the New Jersey coast, then cut across into Pennsylvania and travel up through New York State on Wednesday.
"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.
In upstate New York in Syracuse, shelves normally stocked with water at a Wegmans store were bare on Sunday, 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.
The storm even put Lady Liberty on hold.
The Statue of Liberty was scheduled to reopen Sunday to the public after a renovation project, but the monument will be closed Monday and Tuesday as Sandy passes through the area.
The danger of the storm is 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.
In North Carolina's Outer Banks, there was some scattered, minor flooding Sunday on the beach road in Nags Head.
The Virginia National Guard was also 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.
The U.S. Office of Personnel Management says federal offices will be closed Monday and only emergency employees are required to report to work. Non-emergency employees will be granted administrative leave for their scheduled working hours unless they are required to telework or are traveling or on unpaid leave.
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 president declared a state of emergency in the nation's capital as Sandy approaches.
The White House said in a news release that the president on Sunday signed the state of emergency declaration, which had been requested by Mayor Vincent Gray. It says federal aid should supplement the city's response efforts due to the emergency conditions.
The move follows the federal government's decision to close offices on Monday. The district's board of elections also announced it was suspending early voting on Monday. It has not been determined whether here will be early voting on Tuesday.
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."