As President Barack Obama warned on Sunday that Hurricane Sandy was a ‘serious and big storm’ weather forecasters said that tens of million of people across 800 miles of the East Coast need to prepare for the event which could be the largest ever storm to hit the United States.
Sandy, expected to come ashore late on Monday, could deliver a harsh blow to major cities in its target zone including New York, Philadelphia, Washington, Baltimore and Boston. Its center was forecast to strike New York-New Jersey area and then move inland toward Philadelphia and the rest of Pennsylvania.
The sheer size of the storm meant its effects would be felt from the mid-Atlantic states to New England. Officials warned of widespread power outages that could last for days.
And with several state of emergencies already in existence across the country, New York City’s MTA announced that subway and bus operations would begin to close down at 7 p.m. on Sunday as Mayor Bloomberg ordered the mandatory evacuations of 375,000 people from low-lying coastal areas.
The closure of New York City’s mass transport network for the second time in two years and only the second time in history will mean that almost 12 million people in the wealthiest city in the U.S. will be prevented from taking their usual route to work by the oncoming storm system.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg said he ordered an evacuation of the low-lying areas along the edges of the city including parts of lower Manhattan, sections of Brooklyn and Staten Island, and the Rockaways in Queens.
He said 72 evacuation centres had been created around the city and he also ordered the closure of schools.
Lower Manhattan, the Rockaways and a low-lying area of Queens are the first areas to be evacuated.
‘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,’ he said at a news conference Sunday.’… This is a serious and dangerous storm.’
But, he said, those who didn’t leave wouldn’t be arrested.
If forecasts hold, and especially if the storm surge coincides with high tide, the effects should be much more severe for the city said Klaus Jacob, a Columbia University researcher who has advised the city on coastal risks.
While the storm may not be the worst-case scenario, Jacob said he expected the subway system, as well as underground electrical systems and neighborhoods in Lower Manhattan, to be at least partially flooded.
The City that Never Sleeps will suspend its train, subway and bus service Sunday night ahead of Hurricane Sandy, which is expected to bring strong winds and dangerous flooding to the East Coast, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said at a news conference.
‘If it turns and moves off, great. Really great. But if not then we will be prepared for it,’ said a cautious Cuomo.
‘The transportation system is the lifeblood of the New York City region, and suspending all service is not a step I take lightly.
‘But keeping New Yorkers safe is the first priority, and the best way to do that is to make sure they are out of harm’s way before gale-force winds can start wreaking havoc on trains and buses.’
The service is expected to resume operations about 12 hours after the storm ends, officials said at the news conference – which would put services on track to resume for Tuesday afternoon.
New York City’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority said service on subways will be curtailed beginning at 7 p.m. EDT. The bus network will begin shutting down within the next two hours.
Long Island Rail Road and Metro-North Railroad will start their finals trains by 7 p.m. from terminal locations. Stations will close once the last trains pass through.
With a daily ridership of more than 5 million, New York City’s subway system is by far the largest in the U.S., and many New Yorkers do not have cars and depend on subways and buses to get to work, school and around town.
In addition New Jersey Transit announced they will implement a gradual system-wide shutdown of all bus, rail, light rail and Access Link service, ahead of the massive storm bearing down on the state.
Governor Chris Christie announced the plans Sunday afternoon. He says the shutdown will start at 4 p.m. Sunday and continue through 2 a.m. Monday.
The service suspension process requires the relocation and securing of buses, rail equipment and other NJ Transit assets away from flood-prone areas. It also requires complete coordination with state and local officials throughout the process.
Administration officials also say the Atlantic City Rail Line will suspend operations at 4 p.m. Sunday due to the rapidly deteriorating weather conditions and the continued evacuation of Atlantic City.
The measures announced in New York City come as governors from North Carolina to Connecticut declared states of emergency ahead of Sandy’s arrival
Forecasters said on its current projected track, Sandy is most likely to hit anywhere between Delaware and the New York/New Jersey area but said it was too early to pinpoint where the storm, which has the potential to be the biggest to hit the mainland, would make landfall.
‘We’re looking at impact of greater than 50 to 60 million people,’ said Louis Uccellini, head of environmental prediction for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.