Red Cross workers set up cots inside the West Philadelphia High School gymnasium… (Charles Fox / Philadelphia…)
PHILADELPHIA -- High winds bent trees and rainwater coursed through the emptied streets early Monday as Hurricane Sandy’s outer bands whipped through southeastern Pennsylvania, which lies smack in the path of the mammoth storm.
Philadelphia and surrounding towns and suburbs hunkered down, with the region’s trains and subways shut down, and schools, government offices and most businesses closed.
"This is not a typical storm," Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett told reporters. "This is a hurricane wrapped in a nor’easter."
Officials kept a close watch on the Schuylkill and Delaware rivers, which flow on either side of Philadelphia. Mayor Michael Nutter said both rivers were likely to flood, endangering residents on the city’s eastern and western flanks.
PHOTOS: Hurricane Sandy
He warned residents of low-lying areas to evacuate.
"Philadelphia is in the path" of the storm, Nutter said. "There’s no sign this storm is weakening."
Early Monday, there were scattered reports of downed trees as the rain and winds intensified. The freak late autumn hurricane is colliding with a winter weather system to produce a dangerous hybrid storm at a time when leaves are still on trees, making trees more likely to topple when battered by high winds and rain-soaked soils.
After making a sharp westward turn in the Atlantic overnight, Sandy was expected to make landfall along the New Jersey coastline late Monday or early Tuesday, with tidal surges of up to 11 feet.
Forecasters said the storm center will then barrel across southern New Jersey and Pennsylvania, bringing five to 10 inches of rain or more.
Unlike some summer hurricanes, precisely where Sandy comes ashore is not particularly significant because the storm system is so enormous, said Federal Emergency Management Agency administrator Craig Fugate.
"Regardless of where that [landfall] happens, the size of the storm is going to carve a pretty large swath," Fugate said.
High tides driven by a full moon were expected to contribute to what the National Weather Service called "a life-threatening storm surge."
Although Sandy was still 310 miles southeast of New York City at 8 a.m. EDT, according to the National Hurricane Center, high winds were already lashing much of the northeast and mid-Atlantic. The storm was packing maximum sustained winds of 85 mph.
Residents braced for widespread power outages. Forecasters predicted wind gusts of up to 60 mph in the Philadelphia region, with steady gusts of 30 to 40 mph Monday and Tuesday.
Power crews from several states arrived in southeastern Pennsylvania late Sunday, and officials warned that electricity could be cut off for several days in many places.
"This storm could very well be historic," Corbett said.
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