Hurricane Sandy strengthens as it heads toward LI

As Long Islanders hunkered down, Hurricane Sandy grew stronger and faster early Monday, bringing a “life-threatening storm surge” to the East Coast, forecasters said.

Shortly before dawn, Freeport director of emergency management Richard Holdener said he was concerned that flooding in his South Shore community could be potentially “catastrophic.”

Water was already “spilling over the bulkheads” of local canals Monday morning, more than one hour and 40 minutes before high tide at 8:41 a.m., Holdener said.

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Holdener said he was fearful “tonight’s high tide will be one for the record books.”

Sandy, in the meantime, started to move inland and continued to gain strength.

By 8 a.m., Sandy was 265 miles southeast of Atlantic City and 310 miles south southeast of New York City, the National Weather Service said.

Its maximum sustained winds had increased to 85 mph, up 10 mph from 2 a.m., and was moving inland north northwest toward south central New Jersey at 20 mph, an increase of 5 mph from its 5 a.m. speed, the National Weather Service said.

And more strengthening is possible as Sandy transitions into “a wintertime low-pressure system” before landfall, the hurricane center said.

The potentially historic storm is sure to bring significant coastal flooding, bursts of heavy rain and powerful winds that may reach hurricane strength on Long Island, forecasters said.

President Barack Obama declared emergencies in New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island and Pennsylvania, authorizing federal relief work to begin well ahead of time, The Associated Press reported. He promised the government would “respond big and respond fast” after the storm hits.

Meteorologist David Stark of the National Weather Service said the hurricane’s increased force early Monday was expected, as the storm pushed inland and interacted with other systems.

Stark said the combination of high winds, gusting to 85 mph in some instances, and coastal flooding made the hurricane a life-threatening event.

“As the winds pick up this afternoon and you get waters from 6 feet to 11 feet from high tides backed by storm surges, you have the potential for downed power lines and downed trees,” Stark said. “That’s a cause for concern and reason to seek shelter.

“You don’t want to see people out in those conditions.”

Stark suggested that wind — not rain — could be the most damaging element of the hurricane for Long Island. “We’re looking at winds gusting from 75 mph to 85 mph,” he said. “There will be rain, but the wind right now could be the biggest issue.”

The worst of Sandy should be between late afternoon Monday and into Tuesday morning, and is expected to churn and slam the area for an extended period, meteorologist Lauren Nash of the Upton-based service said.

Rainfall could total as much as 6 inches in some areas, forecasters said. Add to that the storm surge, which could reach from 6 feet to 11 feet in some areas during high tides, and Monday’s forecast appears grim indeed.

High tide Monday in coastal communities could be especially troublesome, Nash said.

“At this time of year, the tides are higher than normal,” Nash said. “Behind these high tides, you also have constant pushes of water from storm surges, and that’s the reason it’s so much worse.”

A coastal flood warning is in effect through 3 p.m. Tuesday, with the period of high tides especially dangerous.

A high wind warning is in effect through 6 p.m. Tuesday, with winds out of the northeast at 35 mph to 55 mph, gusting to 85 mph Monday afternoon. The winds become southeast Monday night, the weather service said.

Sandy was already delivering high wind gusts and coastal flooding to Long Island, and more than 3,000 LIPA customers were already without power shortly after dawn.

High winds also began as early as noon Sunday, with gusts up to 41 mph at Long Island MacArthur Airport in Ronkonkoma and the airports at Westhampton Beach and Farmingdale, Nash said.

Stark said wind gusts could reach as high as 60 mph before noon.

The weather service warned flooding could be “major” during both high tide cycles Monday in Freeport. Such a designation means extensive inundation of structures and roads and significant evacuation of people and movement of property to higher elevations, according to the service.

Major flooding also is expected during Monday night high tide cycles for The Battery in New York City, Kings Point, Lattingtown, Freeport, Jamaica Bay, East Rockaway Inlet, Lindenhurst and Point Lookout.

High tide at Montauk Point at 1:02 a.m. also is expected to generate major flooding, the service said.

Off the North Shore community of Bayville, waves on the Long Island Sound were cresting at 10 feet, far higher than typical seas of one to two feet, by 8 a.m., with high tide expected at around 11:30 a.m.

While Oyster Bay Village ordered an evacuation of any home at 15 feet elevation or less, many residents in the evacuation zone have remained in their homes, especially on the south shore facing the harbor. The evacuation order includes the shorefront for the eastern two-thirds of the island.

There was no flooding overnight in Bayville, but that was expected to change by the morning high tide and then again, and more drastically, around midnight Monday when the high tide returns.

There’s no emergency shelter in Bayville, and flooding is expected to shut down the main road connecting the village to the nearest shelter, in Locust Valley.

Across Long Island, communities prepared for the effects of the hurricane.

Sandy is expected to turn toward the northwest Monday, then turn toward the west-northwest Monday night, forecasters said. The storm is expected to move over the coast of the Mid-Atlantic states Friday evening or night and weaken after moving inland.

Hurricane force winds extend outward up to 175 miles; tropical storm force winds extend outward nearly 500 miles, according to the National Weather Service.

South Shore flooding was among several late developments Sunday into Monday as weather experts and millions of on-edge residents continued to track Sandy’s path toward the tri-state area.

Evacuation centers were open Sunday but had plenty of room available in Suffolk and Nassaucounties by early Monday, officials said. The storm’s size and strength led Port Authority officials to shut down the area’s three major airports Sunday night, canceling hundreds of flights with hundreds more expected to be canceled in the coming days.

It was clear, not even the nation’s powerful economic engine — the New York Stock Exchange — was a match for Sandy. Officials said stock trading is canceled for Monday.

Long Islanders began evacuating low-lying areas as early as Saturday, with Fire Island, and continued on Sunday afternoon along both North and South shores as the region braced for major flooding, widespread power outages and other disruptions.

Just after 10 p.m. Sunday, the storm had yet to hit, but signs of its approach were noticeable on the South Shore.

In Lindenhurst, code enforcement officers had blocked off several streets near the waterfront and were allowing only residents into the area. Nearby, boats rocked in rough waters, still attached to their moorings, but raising concerns among residents they could get loose at high tide Monday and end up in the yards of waterfront homes or roads.

In Long Beach, city officials said several streets were beginning to flood. In Freeport, rising tides Sunday night had flooded several streets south of Merrick Road — the area city officials had urged people to leave earlier — and they repeated that request Sunday night.

Joshua Casper, a 32-year-old freelance writer, from Long Beach, who lives on the first floor of a Franklin Boulevard building on the boardwalk, said that where he was, the high tide had reached but not overtopped sand barriers built on the beach. Even so, Casper said, the storm already is packing more of a punch than Hurricane Irene, which slammed the area in late August 2011.

“Compared with Irene, the water has encroached much further,” he said.

Long Beach residents had been leaving all day, he said, and he’d decided to raise his mattress, unplug appliances and move valuables. But he didn’t know if he’d leave.

“I’m going to play it by ear,” he said. “I’m going to make my decision about midday tomorrow.”

By midnight Monday, about 600 people were in American Red Cross shelters across Long Island, said Red Cross spokesman Craig Cooper. Capacity at each of the 11 shelters ranges from a low of around 400 to about 3,000 at Nassau Community College.

Red Cross will staff the shelters 24 hours a day, Cooper said, and Long Islanders can check in at any time.

Hundreds of flights into and out of New York City were canceled by Sunday night, leaving normally bustling JFK, LaGuardia and Newark airports open but nearly deserted.

Fewer than 100 passengers total remained at LaGuardia, JFK and Newark airports by 11:30 p.m. Sunday, he said.

Flights to and from MacArthur Monday were canceled until at least 8:55 p.m. Monday, officials said.

The storm is cutting into the nation’s financial markets as well.

The Securities and Exchange Commission announced late Sunday that all Monday trading, including electronic, is canceled for U.S. stock markets including the New York Stock Exchange and Nasdaq, Bloomberg News reported. “The decision was made by the market and market participants after careful consideration in consultation with the SEC,” SEC spokesman John Nester said in a statement. “The SEC will continue to be in communication with the markets as the situation warrants.”

Long Island Power Authority officials urged customers to prepare for power outages lasting as long as a week to 10 days. Shortly after 7:30 a.m., LIPA was reporting more than 3,000 power outages, nearly half of them in Riverhead town.

Meanwhile, the list of mandatory evacuations across Long Island grew on Sunday as officials hurried to clear low-lying areas prone to flooding.

Suffolk County buses stopped running at 6 p.m. Sunday, while the Long Island Rail Road, NICE bus, the city subway system and Metro-North all shut down beginning at 7 p.m. Sunday. City buses stopped running by 9 p.m. Sunday. The NICE bus system was completely halted by 9 p.m.

At a Sunday morning news conference in Bethpage at the Nassau County Office of Emergency Management’s headquarters, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo cautioned that the storm “is nothing to play with.”

There was no word on how long the transit suspensions would last, although MTA chairman Joseph Lhota said the agency hoped to have service restored 12 hours after the storm ends.

Schools and other organizations all over Long Island announced they would be closed on Monday. The full list is available at newsday.com/closings.

States of emergency have been declared across Long Island and shelters have opened in both Nassau and Suffolk counties.

John Miller, chief executive of the American Red Cross on Long Island, said that supplies had been deployed to 50 schools across Long Island in anticipation of the storm, and that the agency will work with both counties to determine if more shelters need to be opened.

Nassau County Executive Ed Mangano said that anyone who was affected by last year’s by Tropical Storm Irene’s flooding and storm surge should evacuate immediately.

Cuomo said that 1,100 National Guard members have been activated, with 400 troops to be sent to Long Island and 200 to the city, along with high-axle trucks, helicopters and other equipment.

He added that the state would be monitoring LIPA’s response to outages and customer concerns, referring to “issues in the past” that the utility has had. LIPA was criticized for its response to outages and complaints in Irene’s wake, last year.

LIPA officials said they have lined up out-of-state crews to aid in the restoration of electricity during and after the storm. Workers from Ohio, Wisconsin, Missouri, Illinois, Texas, Florida, California and Iowa began arriving on Long Island Sunday, and damage surveys were to be performed during and after the storm, officials said.

At a news conference Sunday evening, Mangano warned would-be looters to stay away, saying that National Guard soldiers and police will be patrolling evacuated areas.

In Bayville on Sunday, residents were moving their cars to higher ground and evacuating the low-lying North Shore village.

In Southampton, Dune Road was closed to pedestrian and motor traffic because of tidal surge flooding.

With Gary Dymski, Emily Ngo, Deon Hampton, Bill Bleyer and Patricia Kitchen and Bloomberg News (Source: www.Newsday.com)

October 29, 2012

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