Airlines have canceled flights into many East Coast airports, including Newark Liberty International, LaGuardia and John F. Kennedy International in the New York City area and Dulles International and Reagan National airports near Washington, D.C. Amtrak said yesterday that it would "cancel nearly all service on the Eastern Seaboard" today.
In Washington, the federal government, city offices and schools are shuttered today, and the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority has suspended subway and bus service.
Just north of the city, in Beltsville, Md., cars waiting to fuel up jammed the parking lot of a Wawa gas station around 1 p.m. yesterday. Inside, an employee said the station's tanks of regular unleaded gasoline were running dry, unable to keep up with the sudden spike in demand.
Farther north, communities along New Jersey's southern and central coasts are under mandatory evacuation orders. In Ocean City, N.J., emergency sirens sounded yesterday afternoon as police blocked access to the bridges that connect the resort community, which sits on a narrow barrier island, to the mainland.
"This has the potential to be an historic storm, with widespread wind damage and power outages, inland and coastal flooding, and massive beach erosion," warned the National Weather Service office in Mount Holly, N.J., yesterday. "The combination of the heavy rain and prolonged wind will create the potential for long-lasting power outages and serious flooding. ... There will be major property damage, injuries are probably unavoidable, but the goal is zero fatalities."
But if the current forecast holds and Sandy makes landfall in central New Jersey, it is New York City that is expected to take one of the biggest hits from the storm.
Evacuations ordered in New York City
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo suspended all subway, rail and bus service in the city yesterday starting at 7 p.m., as the downstate region braced for the prospect of mass water intrusion into underground transit, high winds and dangerous coastal flooding.
The Democrat's order was soon followed by an evacuation edict from New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg (I), who made residents in low-lying parts of all five boroughs leave their homes for the time being, though he said the city government would open today.
The shutdown of the sprawling subway system marks the second year in a row a storm has forced it to curtail operations, following Hurricane Irene last year. The head of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority yesterday cautioned that the closure could continue through Tuesday, meaning it would be closed for two entire workdays.
Cuomo cited high winds as the primary reason for shutting down the subway, which until Hurricane Irene had never seen a systemwide closure. MTA's policy is to shutter mass transit when sustained winds reach an average of 39 miles per hour.
Surrounding islands were also evacuated, including Fire Island and New Jersey's barrier islands. Bridges and tunnels were set to be closed on a case-by-case basis.
To the south of the city, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) briefed reporters throughout the day as the Garden State prepared for landfall and possibly the brunt of the storm. He said the goal of all emergency services is to save lives and act as if the worst-case scenario is imminent.
"We need to prepare for the worst," he said. "If it turns out to be not as bad, that will be a happy event for all of us."
Devastating storm surge predicted
The National Hurricane Center, meanwhile, signaled that the storm surge in Long Island Sound, New York Harbor and Raritan Bay could be as high as 11 feet.
Uccellini, of NOAA's National Centers for Environmental Prediction, said New York's geography is working against it. Long Island Sound narrows as it approaches New York City, causing water to rise as it funnels through a smaller channel.