The massive storm set to slam into the mid-Atlantic states Monday prompted state and local officials from the Carolinas to New York to shut down public transportation and schools and issue evacuation orders for coastal and low-lying regions ahead of impact expected to cause widespread flooding and power outages.
Hurricane Sandy, currently a Category 1 storm, is expected to come ashore Monday night or early Tuesday morning near the Delmarva peninsula – the region near Delaware, Maryland and Virginia and barrel up the eastern seaboard towards New York. The category one storm carries up to 80 mile-an-hour winds and expected to dump up to 11 inches of rain.
The eye of the enormous, 900-mile wide storm has some 60 million people in its path. The National Guard was deployed along the densely-populated Atlantic coast, Fox News reported. Airports were expected to shut down by Monday afternoon as the weather system experts are calling "Frankenstorm" churned in from the sea. The hurricane is on a collision course with a winter storm and a cold front, and high tides from a full moon make it a rare hybrid storm that could be felt all the way to the Great Lakes.
Some meteorologists say the rare combination of events --, an outbreak of unseasonably cold air, and a strong land-based storm system -- could deliver flooding rains, damaging winds of near-hurricane force, large waves, and even heavy snow inland. One forecaster said the storm could do a billion dollars’ damage to the United States.
In Delaware, the storm threatened to bring as much as a foot of rain, winds of up to 80 mph and a wall of water 4 to 11 feet high. Gov. Jack Markell ordered the evacuation of 50,000 coastal residents, people were lining up outside an American Red Cross shelter in Lewes when it opened at noon Sunday, according to the Daily Times.
Hundreds of Delaware residents sought refuge in shelters opened in Sussex County where many of the state’s coastal communities are located, according to WPVI-TV. On Sunday night, Markell issued an order for “Level 2 driving restrictions” banning anyone from traveling on the roads after 5 a.m. on Monday except emergency and essential personnel.
In New Jersey, 350 of the 560 school districts opted to close on Monday with 247 closing on Tuesday, according to NJ.com, including all districts in Gloucester, Mercer and Salem counties.
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie on Sunday urged residents to heed evacuation orders.
“I don’t want to see lives lost unnecessarily,” Christie said Sunday. He said that the Raritan Bay area was one of his chief concerns, and there were mandatory evacuations for most of the communities along the bay’s southern coast, which may see surges up to 14 feet, according to NJ.com. Along the coast, a 10- to 14-foot wall of water with 10- to 15-foot waves crashing over it could inundate communities from Cape May to New York City.
Christie, during a briefing on Sunday, thanked President Barack Obama, for holding a conference call to speak with him and governors of other states expected to be hit by the storm.
“I appreciated the president’s outreach today in making sure that we know he’s watching this and is concerned about the health and welfare and safety of the people of the state of New Jersey,” he said. He said he asked Obama for a pre-landfall emergency declaration that would allow New Jersey to request federal funds. New York state made and received a similar request.
"This is the largest threat to human life anyone has seen in our lifetime," said Conneticut Gov. Dannel Malloy. His state is also expecting unprecedented flooding. Speaking at the state armory in Hartford, Malloy ordered non-essential employees to forego work Monday and encouraged residents living on the state’s low-lying coastline to evacuate.
New Jersey and New York suspended mass transit in advance of the storm, creating an eerily empty feeling in some of the world's busiest hubs. Christie announced Sunday that NJ Transit would be completely shut down as of 2 a.m. this morning. PATH service has also been suspended.
“NJ Transit's top priority is, has been and will continue to be the safety of our customers, our employees and the citizens of the Garden State," said state Department of Transportation Commissioner James Simpson. “This prudent and necessary action will enable NJ Transit to further support our state’s response to Hurricane Sandy, freeing up resources that may be needed to further facilitate hurricane relief.”
In Washington, D.C., the federal government is shut down to the public. Transit authorities suspended subway and bus service. And the city’s public schools are closed Monday and Tuesday. Neighboring Maryland also shut down its school systems, and ordered evacuations of coastal towns Ocean City, Md., and its bordering seaside regions.
In a news briefing from Reisterstown on Monday morning, Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley said that the cut of the storm would cut through the state. "This intensity will last for an extended period of time," he said. He said officials will later close the Chesapeake Bay Bridge, the dual-span bridge that leads to the state's Eastern Shore.
O'Malley said that he urged residents to stay off the roads for the next 36 hours. "It is going to be a long 24-36 hours," he said. "That potential Bay tidal surge that we thought would be minor, will cause a lot of flooding in the streams and creeks."
O'Malley said his biggest concern was the potential for loss of life. In the rural and mountainous regions in West Virginia, Maryland and Virginia, six to 12 inches of snow were expected, with white-out blizzard warnings issues.
New York City 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, the New York Times reported Monday. As many as 10 million people were expected to lose electricity as Hurricane Sandy toppled trees and light poles and ripped down power lines. 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, the New York Times said.