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Hurricane Sandy barrels toward Northeast; 'Get out before you can't'

October 29, 2012|By Richard Simon, Tina Susman and David Zucchino
  • A satellite image provided by NASA shows Hurricane Sandy off the East Coast.
A satellite image provided by NASA shows Hurricane Sandy off the East Coast. (NASA )

Hurricane Sandy churned the Atlantic Ocean as it barreled northward bringing fierce winds, drenching rains and flooding to the nation’s Northeast, where officials warned residents to stay home and ordered those along coastlines to head to high ground.

“Get out before you can't,” Connecticut's governor, Dannel Malloy, told residents of his state early Monday.

New Jersey's Gov. Chris Christie was more blunt: “Don't be stupid. Get out.”

PHOTOS: Hurricane Sandy approaches

Christie said Monday that there was already flooding along the Barrier Islands and said the flooding will increase later in the day as the high tide rolls in. In addition, there were 35,000 people without power in the state.

Sandy, described as a behemoth superstorm that is strengthening as it moves toward land, was about 300 miles southeast of New York at 8 a.m., according to the National Hurricane Center.  The center of the storm is expected to hit in the mid-Atlantic coast around southern New Jersey and is expected to impact some 50 million people in the nation's most heavily populated corridor. 

Sandy is belting sustained winds of more than 85 mph with higher gusts and is moving north and westward at about 20 mph.

PHOTOS: Massive U.S. storms -- Frankenstorm, Snowpocalypse and more

Part of the problem was Sandy’s sheer size. Hurricane-force winds were clocked up to 175 miles from the storm's center, with tropical storm-force winds blowing as much as 485 miles from the center, meteorologists said.

New York's harbor, bridges and major roads--normally a frenzy of Monday morning commuters--were quiet as the sun rose. Whitecaps dotted the waters around the Statue of Liberty, lower Manhattan, and in the East and Hudson rivers, where all ferry service was halted. Street signs shuddered in the wind, which howled as it roared down the narrow avenues of Manhattan, which were turned into wind tunnels.

Schools were ordered shut across several states and even the federal government closed down, as did Wall Street trading. Transportation was at a crawl because of bridge and tunnel closures and thousands of flights were canceled.

As many as half a million people--10% of the region’s population--were warned by their elected leaders to head to high ground before the worst of the weather hits.

Forecasters said the hurricane could blow ashore Monday night or early Tuesday along the New Jersey coast, then cut across into Pennsylvania and travel up through New York on Wednesday.

“There's a lot of people that are going to be under the impacts of this,” Federal Emergency Management Administrator Craig Fugate said on “CBS This Morning” on Monday. “You know, we've got blizzard warnings as far west as West Virginia, Appalachian Mountains, but I think the biggest concern right now are the people in the evacuation areas. They're going to face the most immediate threats with the storm surge.”

Forecasters said they expect Sandy to hit and then slow down over land, meaning that fierce winds and lashing rains could continue for days, testing utilities, shelters, provisions and the patience of millions of residents.

It isn’t just Sandy that was the problem. Other storms, one from the West and cold air from Canada, are expected to merge with the hurricane as the trio of ill winds blow northward.

"This is not a typical storm," Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett told reporters on Monday. “This is a hurricane wrapped in a nor’easter.’’

Complicating the situation is the expected surge of water pushed by winds onto the shores along the Atlantic. A full moon means that tides will be at the highest. In some areas, surges of 4 to 12 feet are expected, more than enough to flood low-lying regions, mainly in New York and New Jersey. Officials warned that the seawater could flood lower Manhattan, flood subway tunnels and cripple the electrical and communications lines. Power outages across the region could last days.

Officials have been preparing for days for the onslaught of the storm, which roared across the Caribbean last week, killing at least 60 people. Officials began moving utility crews and supplies over the weekend. Warnings crossed partisan lines, as Republican and Democrat governors declared states of emergency, ordered evacuations and told people who could, to stay home.

“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. This is a serious and dangerous storm,” New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg warned.

Still, some people were resisting the evacuation orders, instead opting to pile sandbags in front of doors, boarding windows with wood planks, and emptying store shelves of food and water.

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