Sandy eyes coast
By ALLEN G. BREED and JENNIFER PELTZ
NEW YORK -- Hurricane Sandy bore down on the Eastern Seaboard's largest cities today, forcing the shutdown of mass transit, schools and financial markets, sending coastal residents fleeing, and threatening a dangerous mix of high winds, soaking rain and a surging wall of water up to 11 feet tall.
Sandy strengthened before dawn and stayed on a predicted path toward Washington, Baltimore, Philadelphia and New York -- putting it on a collision course with two other weather systems that would create a superstorm with the potential for havoc more than 800 miles from the East Coast to the Great Lakes. Approximately 2 to 3 feet of snow even was forecast for mountainous parts of West Virginia.
The tempest could endanger approximately 50 million people for days.
"This is the worst-case scenario," said Louis Uccellini, environmental prediction chief for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
Many workers planned to stay home today as subways, buses and trains shut down across the region under the threat of flooding that could inundate tracks and tunnels. Airports also closed, with thousands of flights canceled, and authorities warned the time for evacuation was running out or already past. Utilities brought in extra crews, anticipating widespread power failures.
The center of the storm was positioned to come ashore tonight in New Jersey, meaning the worst of the surge could be in the northern part of that state and in New York City and on Long Island. Higher tides brought by a full moon compounded the threat to the metropolitan area of about 20 million people.
Canals around Long Island's Great South Bay area were bulging two hours before high tide. Water was approximately a foot deep on some streets in Lindenhurst, N.Y., by 7 a.m. this morning.
As rain from the leading edges began to fall over the Northeast on Sunday, hundreds of thousands of people from Maryland to Connecticut were ordered to leave low-lying coastal areas, including 375,000 in lower Manhattan and other parts of New York City, 50,000 in Delaware and 30,000 in Atlantic City, N.J., where the city's 12 casinos shut down for only the fourth time ever.
"I think this one's going to do us in," said Mark Palazzolo, who boarded up his bait-and-tackle shop in Point Pleasant Beach, N.J., with the same wood he used in past storms, crossing out the names of Hurricanes Isaac and Irene and spray-painting "Sandy" next to them. "I got a call from a friend of mine from Florida last night who said, 'Mark, get out! If it's not the storm, it'll be the aftermath. People are going to be fighting in the streets over gasoline and food.' "
President Barack Obama declared emergencies in Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island, New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania, authorizing federal relief work to begin well ahead of time. He promised the government would "respond big and respond fast" after the storm hits.