More than 50 million people from the mid-Atlantic to New England braced Saturday for a potentially massive storm, as Hurricane Sandy churned northward on a collision course with another storm system that is sweeping in from the

Thousands of people were evacuated from low-lying areas along the coast, governors across the region declared states of emergency, and federal officials issued urgent warnings for people to prepare, saying that the storm’s impact would stretch inland all the way to the Ohio Valley.

While computer tracking models showed the center of Hurricane Sandy likely to make landfall late Monday evening or early Tuesday, the director of the National Hurricane Center, Rick Knabb, said that the weather was expected to worsen well before then, with high winds and heavy rains starting to batter the region as early as Sunday night. The exact path of the storm remained unclear, complicating preparation efforts. Federal officials, in a briefing with reporters on Saturday afternoon, said they could not say for certain where the impact would be the worst – only that it would be major. More than 60,000 National Guard troops in nine states were ready to assist the local authorities.

In New York City, officials announced contingency plans to begin shutting down the subways and regional rail lines starting at 7 p.m. Sunday, a decision they will make only if it looks like storm surges will be severe. They also announced plans to close the bridges if there were sustained winds over 60 miles per hour.

Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg of New York told residents to stay out of city parks starting on Sunday and to stock up on basic supplies. All construction was ordered to be suspended starting on Saturday night.

On Long Island, the Town of Islip ordered the mandatory evacuation of residents in low-lying areas, including Fire Island, by Sunday afternoon. Similar evacuation orders were issued in other coastal areas across the region.

From Plymouth, Me., 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.

At supply stores across the region, generators and other goods were snapped up in preparation for the possibility of extended power failures.

Sandbags joined the Halloween scarecrows along Main Street in Hightstown, N.J., on Saturday as business owners who suffered flood damage during Hurricane Irene last year braced themselves.

Basem Hassan, who opened a coffee shop, Roasting Post Cafe, a few doors down from the fire station, spent Saturday putting his most valuable belongings – a coffee roaster and furniture – atop more replaceable equipment like kitchen shelves. “This is to minimize headache,” he said.

Experts warned that even if Hurricane Sandy decreased in strength, it would remain a danger because of the unusual convergence of several weather systems.

A system known as a midlatitude trough – which often leads to severe winter storms – is moving across the country from the west. It is expected to draw in Hurricane Sandy, giving it added energy. A burst of arctic air is expected to sweep down through the Canadian Plains just as those two storms are converging. That could lead to several feet of snow in West Virginia and lighter amounts in parts of Pennsylvania and Ohio, as well as a deluge of rain along the coast.

The full moon on Monday could cause even greater flooding because tides would be at their peak. The hurricane was forecast to come ashore between the Delmarva Peninsula and Long Island. But as the storm continued to churn north, it began to spread out, with tropical-force winds extending about 450 miles from its center. On Saturday, the hurricane was still moving slowly north and had yet to make its predicted eastward swing, at which point it will likely become clearer where it will make landfall.

Forecasters cautioned that the course of the storm could change, but officials from the National Hurricane Center said that it was no longer a question of if the storms would converge – but where and with how much force.

If the Hurricane Sandy continues on its current trajectory and holds its speed, it is predicted to make landfall late Monday night or early Tuesday morning. But officials urged people to be prepared for dangerous weather as early as Sunday night and said that the storm could linger over the East Coast for several days, causing flash flooding and rivers to overflow.

Dr. Knabb of the National Hurricane Center, said the storm’s intensity was unlikely to change. “The center of circulation is only going to be a very small part of the story,” he said. “This is not just going to be a coastal event.” People from Virginia northward should be prepared for a “long-duration event,” he said

Utility companies across the region were rushing to put crews in place to deal with power failures, which state officials warned could be extensive and long lasting. Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey told residents that they should be prepared to go 7 to 10 days without electricity.

Maureen Smith, 70, and her husband, Jim Dugan, 76, have been through hurricanes before, but on Saturday they were evacuated from their apartment in North Wildwood, on the southern shore of New Jersey.

Ms. Smith said they calmly packed up a few treasured possessions, including a glass bowl her son had made for her, and drove to Philadelphia, where they own another home.

“There was a sense of worry, because we do believe this will be serious,” she said.

With forecasters predicting this storm would be much worse than Hurricane Irene, which caused $15 billion in damage, many people were taking no chances.

Bob Parise of North Wantagh, on Long Island, was scouring the aisles of an Ace Hardware store.

“We learned our lesson from Irene and are better prepared,” he said. “I’ve got the generator and the gas. Now I’m just worried about the roof, because coastal storm damage won’t be covered under the insurance.”

Source: The NY Times


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