East Coast braces for storm’s arrival
By MICHAEL SCHWIRTZ
The New York Times | October 29,2012
A boarded up beachfront home in Margate, N.J. is repainted for a new hurricane threat as Hurricane Sandy approaches the area, Sunday.
As the National Hurricane Center warned on Sunday of a “life-threatening storm surge” that could cause record-breaking coastal flooding, tens of millions of residents from Delaware to Southern New England braced for the onslaught of Hurricane Sandy.
The authorities across the region ordered the evacuation of many low-lying areas, including parts of New York City, and the shutdown of subway, bus and railroad services in New York and New Jersey.
Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg on Sunday urged residents in low-lying areas along the coast to leave the area by 7 p.m. Transit service will also be suspended beginning at that time.
“We’re going to have a lot of impact starting with the storm surge,” said Craig Fugate, administrator for the Federal Emergency Management Agency. “Think, ‘Big.’”
Though the hurricane is not projected to make landfall until sometime late Monday, the director of the National Hurricane Center, Dr. Rick Knabb, said coastal regions would begin experiencing gale-force winds, heavy rain and possible flooding as early as Sunday. Tropical storm conditions were being felt in parts of North Carolina, though the storm was 250 miles off the coast.
“Sandy is a large hurricane and large systems pose multiple hazards for more people than smaller systems of comparable intensity,” Knabb said. Forecasters warned that it could ravage areas far beyond the projected path, and they urged people to heed evacuation calls and to prepare for the worst.
In its latest report, the hurricane center said the storm surge could be as high as 11 feet above normal along Long Island Sound and Raritan Bay — a significantly higher forecast than in previous reports — and warned that major flooding could occur across a broad area of the East Coast. Forecasters also expected torrential rains in some regions, which would add to the flooding.
And then there is the snow.
As Hurricane Sandy approaches land it will be drawn into a system known as a mid-latitude trough, a severe winter storm system that is moving across the country from the west. A burst of arctic air is expected to sweep down through the Canadian Plains just as they are converging. That could lead to several feet of snow in West Virginia and Kentucky and lighter amounts in Pennsylvania and Ohio. Temperatures could drop into the mid-20s in some regions.
In announcing the transit shutdown, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo of New York said it was unsafe to operate trains in high winds. He also said the transit shutdown was intended as a signal to discourage New York-area residents from being “up and about.”
The subway system will begin to curtail service at 7 p.m., and the transit authority’s railroads, Metro-North and the Long Island Rail Road, will begin their final trips at the same time. Some buses may remain in service until 9 p.m. (It takes about eight hours for the subway system to be shut down, but only six for the bus system.)
“The transportation system is the lifeblood of the New York City region, and suspending all service is not a step I take lightly,” Cuomo said. “But keeping New Yorkers safe is the first priority, and the best way to do that is to make sure they are out of harm’s way before gale-force winds can start wreaking havoc on trains and buses.”
Joseph J. Lhota, the chairman of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, said he expected the transit systems to restore at least some service about 12 hours after the storm ends, but warned that the city could be without transit for as many as two full work days.
“I do think Monday and Tuesday are going to be difficult days,” Lhota said.
Lhota said that if sustained winds reached 39 miles per hour, there would be required slowdowns on the authority’s bridges. At 60 mph, the bridges would be closed to all traffic.
Bloomberg said city offices would be open Monday and that “city employees should make every effort to report to their jobs on Monday morning.”
City parks and marinas would close at 5 p.m. Sunday, he said.
He called for a mandatory evacuation of Zone A, low-lying areas that include the Rockaways, Coney Island and Red Hook after he revised his assessment of the storm’s potential impact. He said about 375,000 people would have to evacuate.
He added that those who ignore the evacuation order are “not going to get arrested, but they are being, I would argue, very selfish.”
Governors across the region have declared emergencies, and federal officials have issued urgent warnings for people to prepare. From Plymouth, Maine, to Cape Hatteras, N.C., residents boarded up windows; stocked up on water, batteries and food; and prepared to hunker down. Airlines encouraged people with flights scheduled in the next few days to change their plans and waived cancellation fees. Though airports remained open, major airlines including Delta, United and American announced that flights would be canceled.
American Airlines said it canceled 140 flights on Sunday and would cancel an additional 1,431 flights from Monday through Wednesday. Amtrak has also shut down train service to parts of the East Coast, including between Washington and New York.
At supply stores across the region, generators and other goods were snapped up in preparation for the possibility of extended power failures.
Tens of thousands of people who live on New Jersey’s densely populated barrier islands — from Sandy Hook to Cape May — were evacuating Sunday in compliance with an order issued by Gov. Chris Christie.
The evacuation included the 40,000 residents of Atlantic City, where the casinos closed at 3 p.m. on Sunday. All New Jersey Transit service, including buses and rail and light rail lines, were to be suspended starting at 4 p.m.
In Rehoboth Beach, Del., a long line of cars snaked out of town, adhering to the evacuation order announced Saturday night. But some families stopped to take one last picture of the pounding surf.
“It’s just magnificent, looking at this,” said Lori Watson, a Rehoboth Beach resident who lives several miles inland and thus isn’t evacuating.
Federal officials, in a briefing with reporters on Sunday, could not say for certain where the impact would be the worst. Knabb from the National Hurricane Center said the storm would most likely come ashore sometime late Monday between Long Island and the Delmarva Peninsula. But he said that the storm’s effects would stretch far up and down the coast and deep inland.