Tens of thousands of people were ordered to evacuate coastal areas Sunday as big cities and small towns across the U.S. Northeast braced for the onslaught of a megastorm threatening some 60 million people along the most heavily populated corridor of the U.S.
President Barack Obama was monitoring the storm and working with state and local governments to make sure they get the resources needed to prepare, administration officials said. Israel's El-Al Airlines canceled two flights on Sunday and one scheduled for Monday. Other major airlines also canceled flights.
As Hurricane Sandy made its way up the Atlantic Coast, New York City announced its subways, buses and trains would stop running Sunday night, and its 1.1 million-student school system would be closed on Monday. The New York Stock Exchange, however, plans normal operations Monday.
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," Bloomberg said. "This is a serious and dangerous storm."
Hurricane Sandy was headed north from the Caribbean, where it left at least 65 people dead, mostly in Haiti, and was expected to hook left toward the mid-Atlantic coast and come ashore late Monday or early Tuesday, most likely along the New Jersey shore, colliding with a wintry storm moving in from the west and cold air streaming down from the Arctic.
Forecasters warned that the resulting megastorm could wreak havoc over 1,300 kilometers from the East Coast to the Great Lakes. The danger was hardly limited to coastal areas, with worries 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 on Sunday morning, to Connecticut. Delaware ordered 50,000 people in coastal communities to clear out by 8 P.M. Sunday.
Officials in New York City were particularly worried about the possibility of subway flooding. The city closed the subways before Hurricane Irene last year.
Sandy was at Category 1 strength, packing 120 kph winds, about 400 kilometers southeast of Cape Hatteras, North Carolina, and moving northeast at 22.5 kph as of 11 A.M. Sunday, according to the National Hurricane Center in Miami. It was about 925 kilometers south of New York City.
The storm was so big and the convergence of the three storms so rare, that "we just can't pinpoint who is going to get the worst of it," said Rick Knabb, director of the National Hurricane Center in Miami.
Amtrak began canceling passenger 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 storm also forced the presidential campaign to juggle schedules. 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 planned Monday departure for Florida to Sunday night to beat the storm. He also canceled appearances in Northern Virginia on Monday and Colorado on Tuesday.
"I've been here since 1997, and I never even put my barbecue grill away during a storm," Russ Linke said shortly before he and his wife left the Jersey shore barrier island town of Ship Bottom on Saturday. "But I am taking this one seriously. They say it might hit here. That's about as serious as it can get."
Witlet Maceno, an emergency room nurse working at New York City's Mount Sinai Hospital, was headed home to Staten Island on Sunday morning after his overnight shift. He said he was going home to check on his parents, visiting from Atlanta, before he returned to work Sunday evening.
"I'm making sure they're OK, that they have water and food, and that the windows are shut tight," he said. "And I'm going to remove stuff outside that could go flying into the windows,"he said of his street-level apartment.
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