Sandy barreled north from the Caribbean on Saturday, expected to make landfall early Tuesday near the southern New Jersey coast before it hits two winter weather systems as it moves inland, creating a hybrid superstorm that has the potential to cause widespread flooding and lasting power outages.
MTA officials warned that subways, bridges and commuter rails could be shut down starting 7 p.m. Sunday, but said a decision would not be made until hours before that.
Governors in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut all declared states of emergency. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie ordered mandatory evacuations by Sunday at 4 p.m. for the state’s barrier islands from Long Beach Island south to Cape May. During a briefing Saturday, he also ordered evacuations at Atlantic City casinos by that time.
The first evacuations in New York have been ordered on Fire Island. Residents are to leave by 2 p.m. Sunday, the Islip town supervisor said.
Mayor Bloomberg said late Saturday that the city was not yet ordering evacuations for low-lying areas, which include Battery Park City, Coney Island, Manhattan Beach, Far Rockaway and Midland Beach and South Beach in Staten Island. See the zone in orange on this map.
He said New Yorkers in those areas should still expect some flooding and loss of power.
City parks would close at 5 p.m. Sunday, the mayor said.
In August 2011, Bloomberg ordered evacuations in low-lying areas of the city as Hurricane Irene approached. The entire subway system was also shut down.
The MTA says its plan calls for service to be shut down if sustained winds of 39 mph or higher are expected. Ahead of the storm, extra workers were being called in, trains were being removed from outdoor yards and subway ventilation grates vulnerable to flooding were being sandbagged and covered.
The agency says some vehicles may be barred from its bridges when winds reach 50 mph or more, and the bridges could be closed if winds reach 60 mph.
Bloomberg said officials would decide Sunday if school would be in session on Monday.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo is urging people to prepare storm kits, which include non-perishable food, water, cash, filled prescriptions, a battery-powered or hand-crank radio, first aid kit, flashlights and batteries.
“We want to take every precaution possible,” Cuomo said.
Con Ed said said it would shut off some steam lines in parts of Manhattan, fearing cold water flooding could burst hot lines.
In Suffolk County, officials are telling residents to leave flood-prone areas. Several shelters have been established; the latest information can be found here. In Nassau, residents can go here for information.
Officials say shelters will be set up in 18 counties to accommodate roughly 12,000 people and, if needed, the state will mobilize five shelters to house another 5,000 people. For a list of county OEM coordinators, go here.
Despite the dire predictions, some coastal residents said they planned to stay in their homes. Many predicted Sandy would fizzle as most of the recent storms to approach the shore did, while others said they felt safer in their homes.
Many residents, though, were preparing for the worst.
One island resident who wasn’t taking any chances was Russ Linke. He and his wife planned to leave Ship Bottom after securing their patio furniture and packing bicycles into their pickup truck.
“I’ve been here since 1997, and I never even put my barbecue grill away during a storm,” Linke said. “But I am taking this one seriously. They say it might hit here. That’s about as serious as it can get.”
PSE&G is warning that between 500,000 and 1 million of its 2.2 million customers could lose power.
The Department of Environmental Protection is opening the Pompton Lakes Dam to lower the lake’s level in advance of the storm. The town of Pompton Lakes sits between the Pequannock and Ramapo rivers and has a long history of flooding.
In addition, the state is lowering the levels of four reservoirs used for drinking water in northern New Jersey for the first time ever in preparation for the storm. According to Larry Ragones, a spokesman for the department, the actions were being taken to “create a void space for runoff from the storm.”
(AP / NBC New York)