By JAMES BARRON and BRIAN STELTER
Hurricane Sandy churned through the Atlantic Ocean on Monday en route to what forecasters agreed would be a devastating landfall that is expected to paralyze life for millions of people in more than a half-dozen states in the Northeast, with widespread power failures, a halt in transportation systems and extensive evacuations.
The huge storm, which has been picking up speed over water, was producing sustained winds of 90 miles per hour by 11 a.m., up from 75 m.p.h. on Sunday night, an indication of continual strengthening. Earlier on Monday, the center of Hurricane Sandy made its expected turn toward the New Jersey coast. The National Hurricane Center said the center of the storm was now moving north northwest at 18 m.p.h.
Residents and emergency management officials have been keeping a wary eye on the hurricane’s expected path, bracing for the impact in states like Connecticut, Delaware, Maryland, New York, New Jersey, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Virginia.
But hours before landfall, streets were already swamped, structures destroyed and waterways transformed as the storm’s outlying sections pushed wind and water ahead of it. In Maryland, the normally placid Sligo Creek in the suburb of Takoma Park turned into a roaring torrent. In the state’s Ocean City, the boardwalk pier was “significantly damaged” overnight, said Mike Levy, a public information officer for the Police Department there. The evacuated south end of the resort town, he said, “is getting subjected to quite a bit of flooding.”
Gov. Martin O’Malley of Maryland gave an unvarnished assessment of the grim situation as the storm raked the coast and roared inland. “There will be people who die and are killed in this storm,” he warned.
“We need to watch out for each other, but the intensity of this storm is such that there will undoubtedly be some deaths that are caused by the intensity of this storm, by the floods, by the tidal surge, and by the waves,” Mr. O’Malley said in a news conference from the statement’s emergency center broadcast live over the Internet.
High winds will quite likely force the state to close the long Bay Bridge that links mainland Maryland to the Delmarva Peninsula, which is already seeing damage from the pounding surf, he said.
There was no holding back the swollen waters in other states, as it breached protective barriers in places like Atlantic City, N.J., where the boardwalk was damaged, photos posted online showed, while water seeped inland by several blocks. In Delaware, the creeping storm surge left standing water from the Atlantic on some of the seafront roads in Rehoboth Beach.
According to forecasters, the storm is on a scale that weather historians say has little precedent along the East Coast. Landfall is predicted on Monday night somewhere between central New Jersey and southern Delaware. But most of the eastern United States will feel Hurricane Sandy’s effects, making the exact landfall spot less important than the overall trajectory. “One of the biggest storms of our lifetimes is unfolding right now,” the anchor Kelly Cass said as The Weather Channel started its fourth day of nonstop coverage.
A day in advance, residents were ordered to evacuate, with many seeking refuge in shelters. Mass transit systems ground to a halt, and people stocked up on water and food.
Broad Area of Strong Winds
Hurricane-force winds extend up to 175 miles from the center of the storm; tropical-storm-force winds extend up to 485 miles from the center. This means that portions of the coast from Virginia to Massachusetts will feel hurricane-force winds as the storm moves toward land, according to forecasters. Winds of tropical-storm force could stretch all the way north to Canada and all the way west to the Great Lakes, where flood warnings were issued on Sunday.
“A turn toward the northwest is expected soon,” the hurricane center’s 11 a.m. advisory said, followed by another turn toward the west northwest. “The center of Sandy is expected to make landfall along or just south of the southern New Jersey coast this evening or tonight.”
Some states expected snow, with blizzard warnings issued for mountainous stretches of Maryland, Virginia and West Virginia.
Officials warned that the powerful surge the storm was creating in the ocean, combined with the strong winds, could wreak destruction in the Northeast for days. As many as 10 million people were expected to lose electricity as Hurricane Sandy toppled trees and light poles and ripped down power lines.
As the storm bore down on some of the nation’s most densely populated areas, city and state officials went into emergency mode. The New York City subway system and all of the region’s commuter trains and buses were shut down. The major stock exchanges called off all trading for Monday, and Broadway theaters canceled their shows on Sunday evening and Monday.
Warning that the flooding would be “life-threatening,” forecasters and government officials implored residents in the areas designated for evacuation not to try to ride this storm out.
“We’re going to have a lot of impact, starting with the storm surge,” said Craig Fugate, the administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency. “Think, ‘Big.’ ”
Evacuations in New York
Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg ordered the evacuation of more than 370,000 people in low-lying communities from Coney Island in Brooklyn to Battery Park City in Manhattan and gave 1.1 million schoolchildren a day off on Monday; he also announced that schools would remain closed on Tuesday. The city opened evacuation shelters at 76 public schools.
In New York City, the subway closing began at 7 p.m. Sunday, darkening every one of the city’s 468 stations for the second time in 14 months, as officials encouraged the public to stay indoors and worked to prevent a storm surge from damaging tracks and signal equipment in the tunnels.
The closing this year seemed more ominous. The shutdown before Tropical Storm Irene last year began at noon on a Saturday, and service resumed before the workweek started on Monday. This time, officials warned, it might be Wednesday before trains were running again. The Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s commuter rail lines, which sustained the heaviest damage during Tropical Storm Irene, were suspended, and New Jersey Transit shut down by 2 a.m.
Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, warning that the surge from Hurricane Sandy could go two feet higher than Tropical Storm Irene last year, announced that the Holland and Brooklyn-Battery Tunnels would close at 2 p.m. State officials said the two tunnels were prone to flooding.
As for other bridges and tunnels, the governor said that would be blocked off if winds exceeded 60 m.p.h. Some forecasts, he noted, are already calling for blasts of 90 m.p.h.
Joseph J. Lhota, the chairman and chief executive of the transportation authority, said the Queens-Midtown Tunnel had never been closed because of high winds. But he said that if water poured in at one end or the other — in Manhattan or in Queens — “we will recommend to governor that that happen.”
Mr. Lhota said he expected the transit systems to restore at least some service about 12 hours after the storm ended. But he warned that the city could be without mass transit for as many as two full workdays. “I do think Monday and Tuesday are going to be difficult days,” Mr. Lhota said.
The PATH system, buses and the Staten Island Ferry system were also suspended.
Another fear in the Northeast was that winds from the storm might knock down power lines, and that surging waters could flood utility companies’ generators and other equipment. Consolidated Edison did not provide an estimate of how long customers in the New York City area might be without power if the storm played havoc with its network. But Jersey Central Power and Light warned as long ago as Friday that repairs could take 10 days after the storm passed through. Another utility in New Jersey, the Public Service Electric and Gas Company, said restoring power could take a week.
PECO, the southeastern Pennsylvania utility, reported only scattered power disruptions by about 9 a.m. on Monday but warned that customers would probably go days without electricity when the full effects of the storm were felt.
“With a storm of this magnitude, we are looking at a multiday restoration,” said Martha Phan, a spokeswoman for the utility.
As heavy rain lashed Philadelphia, 3 shelters were opened, with 12 elsewhere in Pennsylvania, with more than 200 people already taking refuge, said Penny Kline, a spokeswoman for the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency.
But still, many people chose not to evacuate. That meant that in the seaside town of Rehoboth Beach, Del., and in similarly low-lying towns in South Jersey, residents awoke to widespread road closings on Monday morning, effectively forcing them to shelter in place until the storm passes.
Gov. Jack A. Markell of Delaware decided Sunday night to close all state roads at 5 a.m. Monday, with exceptions for emergency workers and other essential personnel.
“People have had several days to be out preparing for the storm’s arrival,” Mr. Markell said in a statement. “When Sandy hits on Monday, they should be at home or if necessary a shelter to wait out the worst of the storm. Do not put yourself on the road. Do not put yourself and those who may need to rescue you at risk.”
Creeping Storm Surge
Heavy bands of rains pushed inland to Philadelphia, where all mass transit service was suspended, and to Washington, where the transit system, the schools and the federal government were closed.
Early afternoon on Monday, the authorities reported no major damage but said that would almost certainly change as the storm came ashore in the next 24 hours, funneling the surge into New Jersey, New York and Connecticut.
In addition to the local mass transit systems, Amtrak canceled most trains on the Eastern Seaboard.
The storm prompted schools in Baltimore and Boston to be closed. The Coast Guard closed New York Harbor — cruise ships were told to go elsewhere — and the Northeast faced the possibility of being all but shut down on Monday. And the United Nations canceled all meetings at its headquarters in Manhattan. The National Hurricane Center said further intensification was quite likely on Monday as the storm converted from tropical (a hurricane) to extratropical — a change that people in its path will probably not even notice.
Forecasters said the hurricane was a strikingly powerful storm that could reach far inland. Forecasters said they expected high-altitude winds to whip every state east of the Mississippi River.
President Obama, who attended a briefing with officials from FEMA, called Hurricane Sandy “a big and serious storm.” He said federal officials were “making sure that we’ve got the best possible response to what is going to be a big and messy system.”
“My main message to everybody involved is that we have to take this seriously,” the president said.
In Atlantic County, N.J., which includes Atlantic City, a curfew and driving ban was put in place at midnight. Gov. Chris Christie had ordered residents to leave barrier islands from Sandy Hook to Cape May, and early on Monday, local authorities said about 400 people were staying in shelters.
About 500 people are in shelters throughout Delaware, Governor Markell said.
For the most part, residents appeared to follow officials’ advice to stock up on bottled water, canned food and flashlights — so much so that stores ran low on batteries. Some gas stations in Connecticut had little gasoline left — no regular, and not much premium.
In an early briefing on Monday, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, in Connecticut, said 850 national guardsmen and women had been deployed.
A storm surge of between 7 feet to 11 feet was expected, with New London and Bridgeport especially hardest hit, and the worst winds would sweep through from between 3 p.m. to about 3 a.m. Tuesday, with gusts of wind as high as 90 m.p.h. Power failures could last “a long period of time,” Mr. Malloy said.
“Stay home,” he added. “Let me repeat that: Stay home.”
The governor said the potential for loss of life was “extremely high.”
“This is the most catastrophic event that we have faced and been able to plan for in any of our lifetimes,” he said.
Air Travel Troubles
Even before the storm landed, transportation systems were shut down. The nation’s major airlines canceled thousands of flights in the Northeast. Bradley International Airport near Hartford was closing on Monday afternoon, Mr. Malloy said.
But the three major airports in and around New York City remained open on Monday morning, even though the airlines had canceled all flights into and out of them, said Steve Coleman, a spokesman for the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.
Mr. Coleman said there were about 30 stranded passengers at La Guardia Airport in Queens and about 30 more at Newark Liberty International Airport in New Jersey. He did not provide an estimate for Kennedy International Airport, also in Queens. He said that the Port Authority had provided cots and blankets to the travelers and that they were welcome to stay until the storm passes. Service on the AirTrain shuttles to Kennedy and Newark has been suspended, he said. Many public libraries said their reading rooms would be closed for the day, and parks department workers in Central Park told people to leave on Sunday and to stay away until the storm passed.
The New York Stock Exchange, which initially said its trading floor would be open on Monday, decided to close the floor and suspend all trading on Monday. The closing was the first caused by bad weather since Hurricane Gloria in 1985, although the opening bell has been delayed a number of times — once during a blizzard in January 1996 — and the exchange was closed for three days after the Sept. 11 attacks. The Nasdaq exchange also announced it would be closed on Monday.
Forecasters said Hurricane Sandy could deliver something besides wind and rain: snow. Several feet of heavy, wet snow was expected in West Virginia and lighter amounts in Pennsylvania and Ohio that could bring down trees and power lines if already chilly temperatures drop below freezing.
The full moon on Monday could cause even greater flooding, because tides will be at their peak.
But it was the possibility of a surge that prompted many to take precautions. The hurricane center said the surges could reach 11 feet in New York Harbor, Long Island Sound and Raritan Bay in New Jersey — significantly higher than previous forecasts and significantly above the levels recorded during the tropical storm last year.
Forecasters said the water could top eight feet from Ocean City, Md., to the border between Connecticut and Rhode Island. They predicted the waves would rise to six feet on the south shore of Cape Cod.
A higher surge was one reason that Mayor Bloomberg ordered mandatory evacuations in low-lying areas of New York City, just as he did before Tropical Storm Irene. One city official said there was particular concern about Con Edison’s Lower Manhattan infrastructure, noting that if the storm surge washed over the bulkheads, it could damage the utility’s electrical and steam networks. If the surge runs as high as forecast, Con Ed will shut off two electrical networks in Lower Manhattan.
As Governor Cuomo announced that two New York City tunnels would be closing by midafternoon, many people took advantage of the arteries that connect Manhattan with other boroughs until the last minute, to get to work, or wondered how they would return home.
Michael Maxwell, 56, a porter at the Sweeney Building, a luxury condominium at 30 Main Street in Dumbo neighborhood of Brooklyn, had taken a car service from Canarsie to arrive at his morning shift. If he finished early, he said, he hoped to be able to take a car service home; otherwise, he would sleep in the locker room. A few people walked; between 7:15 and 8 a.m., only a half-dozen hardy souls headed across the Brooklyn Bridge to Manhattan by foot. Most of them were public employees, headed to offices downtown.
Phil Amato, 45, a maintenance worker, said he would sleep in the building where he works, across from the stock exchange, until he could take the subway home to Brooklyn.
“I’m staying till it’s over,” he said.
People also tried to protect their homes from the floods and wind, shoring up thresholds and taping windows.
In a flood-prone neighborhood in Philadelphia, Michael Dornblum did something he did not do during Tropical Storm Irene or earlier storms that brought high water — he put 80-pound sandbags outside his family’s furniture store. In the past, he has lined them up only inside. He put the additional protection in place as employees prepared to lift carpets and sofas off the showroom floor. Some went to a storage area on the second floor.
In North Carolina, Highway 12, which links the Outer Banks to the mainland, was covered in water in four locations from Hatteras Island to Cedar Island, according to Bobby Hill, director of emergency management for the North Carolina Ferry Division.
Noah Lynk, a maritime engineer, was part of a standby crew stationed at the Cherry Branch Ferry Terminal. He said the level of flooding in the area was typical of a strong northeaster or offshore hurricane.
“When they come real close like this, most people go out surfing,” he said. “Unfortunately for us we have to work.”
James Barron reported from New York, and Brian Stelter from Rehoboth Beach, Del. Reporting was contributed by Patrick McGeehan, Matt Flegenheimer, Christine Hauser, John Leland, Colin Moynihan, Sharon Otterman, William K. Rashbaum, Marc Santora, Sam Sifton, Nate Schweber, Michael Schwirtz, Kate Taylor and Vivian Yee from New York; Angela Macropoulos from Fire Island, N.Y.; Jeff Lebowitz and Michael Winerip from Long Beach, N.Y.; Sarah Maslin Nir from East Hampton, N.Y.; Elizabeth Maker from Milford, Conn.; Kristin Hussey from Stamford, Conn.; Stacey Stowe from Yonkers; Matthew L. Wald and Theo Emery from Washington; Jon Hurdle from Philadelphia; Sarah Trefethen from New Bern, N.C.; and Thomas Kaplan from Cape May, N.J.
PUBLISHED OCTOBER 29, 2012
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