Tens of thousands of residents were ordered to evacuate coastal areas on Sunday October 28, as big cities and small towns across the Northeast buttoned up against the onslaught of a super-storm threatening some 50 million people in the most heavily populated corridor in the nation.
“The time for preparing and talking is about over,” Federal Emergency Management Administrator Craig Fugate had warned as a monster Hurricane Sandy headed up the Eastern Seaboard on a collision course with two other weather systems. “People need to be acting now.”
New York City announced its subways, buses and trains would stop running Sunday night because of the risk of flooding, and its 1.1 million-student school system would be closed on Monday October 29. Mayor Michael Bloomberg also ordered the evacuation of part of lower Manhattan and other low-lying neighborhoods.
“If you don’t evacuate, you are not only endangering your life, you are also endangering the lives of the first responders who are going in to rescue you,” he said. “This is a serious and dangerous storm.”
Tens of thousands of people along the coast in Delaware, New Jersey, Connecticut and other threatened areas were also under orders to clear out because of the danger of as much as a foot of rain, punishing winds of 80 mph or higher and a potentially deadly wall of water 4 to 11 feet high. Communities opened shelters across the region.
Sandy was headed north from the Caribbean, where it left nearly five dozen people dead.
Forecasters had warned that the resulting megastorm could wreak havoc over 800 miles from the East Coast to the Great Lakes. Parts of West Virginia, Virginia, Kentucky and North Carolina could get snow — 2 feet or more in places.
The danger was hardly limited to coastal areas, with forecasters worried about inland flooding. They also warned that the rain could saturate the ground, causing trees to topple onto power lines and cause blackouts that could last for several days.
States of emergency were declared from North Carolina, where gusty winds whipped steady rain, to Connecticut. Delaware ordered 50,000 people in coastal communities to clear out by 8 p.m. Sunday.
Sandy was at Category 1 strength, packing 75 mph winds, about 270 miles southeast of Cape Hatteras, N.C., and moving northeast at 14 mph as of 2 p.m. on October 28, according to the National Hurricane Center in Miami. It was about 575 miles south of New York City. But the storm was so big that forecasters could not say with any certainty which areas would get the worst of it.
Amtrak began canceling train service Saturday night to parts of the East Coast, including between Washington and New York. Airlines started moving planes out of airports to avoid damage and added Sunday flights out of New York and Washington in preparation for flight cancellations on Monday.
The Virginia National Guard was authorized to call up to 500 troops for debris removal and road-clearing, while homeowners stacked sandbags at their front doors in coastal towns.
In Arlington, just outside Washington, D.C., a few shoppers strolled in and out of a supermarket. Cathy Davis said the supermarket was sold out of the water she wanted to purchase, but she wasn’t doing much else to prepare. She figured she would bring her outdoor furniture inside later in the day, and might make some chili.
She said the storm did lead her to decide against decorating for Halloween.
“I was like, ‘Eh, it will just be blown away anyway,’” she said. “What’s the point?”
President Barack Obama was monitoring the storm and working with state and locals governments to make sure they get the resources needed to prepare, administration officials said.
The storm forced the presidential campaign to juggle schedules. Mitt 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 Monday departure for Florida to Sunday night to beat the storm. He also canceled appearances in northern Virginia on Monday and Colorado on Tuesday.
Breed reported from Raleigh, N.C. Contributing to this report were AP Science Writer Seth Borenstein in Washington; Emery Dalesio in Nags Head, N.C.; Verena Dobnik, Karen Matthews and Samantha Bomkamp in New York; Randall Chase in Lewes, Del.; Dave Dishneau in Wilmington, Del.; Jessica Gresko in Arlington, Va.; and Nancy Benac in Washington.