New York prepares for worst from Sandy

Published 6:48 pm Saturday, October 27, 2012

MarketWatch (MCT)
NEW YORK — New York prepared for the worst Saturday as two powerful storm systems, guided by Hurricane Sandy, headed toward the nation’s most populous city, where heavy rain, strong winds and flooding were expected to hit as early as late Sunday.
Sandy weakened overnight into a tropical storm then strengthened again into a hurricane with sustained winds of more than 75 miles an hour. Another system that often results in severe winter storms moved across the nation from the west, and was expected to boost Sandy’s strength.
The hybrid storm could impact as many as 50 million people, according to published reports.
In New York City, Mayor Michael Bloomberg told a Saturday afternoon press conference the city would very likely feel Sandy’s effects for several days, with flooding and bridge closures to be expected.
Bloomberg said the city was not requiring evacuations of low-lying areas especially at risk for flooding, saying officials should have a better idea of where Sandy would hit late Sunday afternoon or evening.
“If it were to hit land in Baltimore or in Nantucket, New York would just have some heavy winds, and a little bit of flooding, and a lot of rain; if it were to hit closer to home, the flooding, the rain and the winds will all get much more problematic,” Bloomberg said.
“There are probably 20 different forecasts, or tracks for this. If I had to make a guess, it will be very late tomorrow afternoon before I have another update,” the mayor added on Saturday.
New Yorkers living in low-lying coastal areas that include parts of Brooklyn, lower Manhattan, Staten Island and the south Bronx should prepare emergency “to-go” kits containing items such as drinking water, medications and identification, Bloomberg advised, saying: “You certainly have time tomorrow, when the weather should be OK.”
While not yet prepared to order evacuations, the city is recommending that six hospitals and 41 chronic-care facilities in at-risk areas cancel all elective admissions and discharge those that can be safely sent home.
Senior centers will close early Monday and remain closed Tuesday, the mayor said.
On Monday, New York can expect wind gusts of between 60 to 80 miles, and rainfall of between 4 to 8 inches, with as much as 10 inches in isolated areas, said senior meteorologist Alan Reppert.
“We could see 5- to 10-foot waves anywhere near the coastline, like Long Island Sound,” said Reppert, who added that conditions should improve by Tuesday afternoon, although strong wind gusts and rain would likely still be in play.
Sandy was slowly moving away from the Bahamas and Florida, with tropical-storm force winds already hitting near the North Carolina cost, the National Hurricane Center said in an 11 a.m. Eastern advisory.
New York City has already ordered a halt to all exterior construction by 5 p.m. Eastern Sunday, and said the public should stay out of city parks, starting Sunday.
No decision has been made on whether the city’s public schools will be open Monday, the mayor said.
However, admission tests for the city’s much-coveted specialized high schools took place as planned on Saturday, while Sunday’s tests were cancelled.
New York and New Jersey were among the states to declare states of emergency, with New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie on Saturday telling a televised news conference: “We have to be prepared for the worst.”
If the latest forecasts hold, Christie warned that New Jersey residents could be without power for more than a week, and urged people to take precautions. “We should not underestimate the impact of this storm.”
Work was also under way Saturday to protect the nation’s largest transportation network, with workers checking rail and subway lines that serve nearly 15 million people in a 5,000-square-mile area stretching from New York City through Long Island, southeastern New York State and Connecticut.
Sandy’s high winds and heavy rain could make operating transit lines as well as tunnels and bridges dangerous, according to the Metropolitan Transportation Authority.
Transit officials were preparing “for the worst,” MTA Chairman Joseph Lhota said in a statement.
No decision had been made Saturday afternoon as to whether to suspend some or all transit service ahead of the storm, but the MTA’s emergency plan calls for an orderly shutdown of service before the arrival of sustained winds of 39 miles an hour or higher.
Crews on Saturday were cleaning and checking areas known to be prone to flooding, with extra workers and managers ready to staff a transit command center slated to open Sunday at 8 a.m. Eastern.
The MTA last suspended service during Tropical Storm Irene in August 2011.