* Sandy expected to come ashore Monday night or Tuesday
* New York and New Jersey area could be hit first
* Sandy may halt, flood New York City subway system
* Mandatory evacuation in coastal Delaware communities
* Hurricane due to arrive a week before U.S. election
(Adds new location and storm speed)
By Gene Cherry
HATTERAS ISLAND, N.C., Oct 27 Hurricane Sandy
closed in on the United States on Saturday as coastal
communities along the East Coast scrambled to prepare for
torrential rains, high winds, major flooding and power outages a
week before the presidential election.
Governors in states in the hurricane's path declared
emergencies, announcing mandatory evacuations of vulnerable
areas. New York City officials discussed whether to shut the
subway system on Sunday in advance of the storm.
Rain accumulations of up to 12 inches (30 cm) and heavy
snowfall inland are considered likely in some areas. As it
merges with an Arctic jet stream, forecasters said Sandy has all
the ingredients to transform into a "super storm" unlike
anything seen over the eastern United States in decades.
On its current projected track, Sandy could make U.S.
landfall on Monday night or Tuesday morning anywhere between
Maryland and southern New England, forecasters said. Some
computer models showed a likely landfall between Delaware and
the New York/New Jersey area.
The hurricane was headed toward densely populated areas with
tens of millions of people. Officials urged residents to stock
up on food, water and batteries. Worried residents packed
stores, buying generators, candles, food and other supplies in
anticipation of power outages. Some local governments announced
schools would be closed on Monday and Tuesday.
"They're freaking out," said Joe Dautel, a clerk at a hardware
store in Glenside, Pennsylvania. "I'm selling people four, five,
six packs of batteries - when I had them."
Sandy also threatened to disrupt air travel in the region.
Sandy was located about 305 miles (490 km) south of Cape
Hatteras, North Carolina, with top sustained winds of 75 miles
(120 km) per hour at about 11 p.m. Saturday (0300 Sunday GMT),
the Miami-based National Hurricane Center said. The storm was
still moving slowly over the Atlantic at 14 miles per hour (22
"There's no avoiding a significant storm-surge event over a
large area," said National Hurricane Center Director Rick Knabb.
"We just can't pinpoint who's going to get the worst of it."
The White House said President Barack Obama took part in a
call with U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and
Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Administrator Craig
Fugate to discuss preparations for Sandy.
The approaching storm forced a change of plans for both
presidential candidates ahead of the Nov. 6 election. The White
House said Obama canceled a campaign appearance in Virginia on
Monday and another stop in Colorado on Tuesday, and will instead
monitor the storm from Washington.
Republican challenger Mitt Romney canceled a trip to
Virginia set for Sunday, when the state is expected to begin
feeling Sandy's impact, and will go instead to Ohio.
Coastal flooding posed a major threat, particularly in
low-lying areas like New York City, the global financial nerve
center, and Alexandria, Virginia, across the Potomac River from
"This is not a coastal threat alone," Fugate told reporters,
warning of the potential for flooding in Maryland and
Pennsylvania, as well as more than 2 feet (0.6 meters) of snow
in West Virginia and southwest Pennsylvania. "This is going to
go well inland," he added.
Delaware Governor Jack Markell ordered a mandatory
evacuation of an estimated 50,000 people in coastal communities
on Saturday. New Jersey's Cape May County ordered an evacuation
of its barrier islands, home to some popular beach resorts, by
In New York, authorities were considering closing down the
city's buses, subways, commuter railroads, bridges and tunnels
as early as 7 p.m. on Sunday, when the last commuter trains
would depart, with the entire system to be closed down by 3 a.m.
Monday, officials said.
Forecasters said flooding could span multiple tides with a
storm surge of 4 to 8 feet (1.2-2.4 meters) in Long Island
Sound, the southern portion of Lower New York Bay and Delaware
Sandy's storm surge has the potential to flood New York
City's subway system if the storm arrives at or near Monday
evening's high tide around 9 p.m., according to Jeff Masters, a
hurricane specialist who also writes a Weather Underground blog.
Monday is also a full moon, which creates an extra-high
tide. "These storm surge heights will be among the highest ever
recorded along the affected coasts, and will have the potential
to cause billions of dollars in damage," Masters wrote.
Officials said 50 to 60 million people could be affected by
Sandy, which many forecasters warn could be more destructive
than Irene, which caused billions of dollars in damage across
the U.S. Northeast in August 2011.
A GROWING STORM
Sandy continued to grow in size with tropical storm-force
winds extending across 700 miles (1,125 km). More powerful
hurricane force winds extended 105 miles (165 km) from its
center, increasing the risk of downed trees and power lines,
"The winds... expected to be at or near hurricane strength
at landfall... will spread inland for hundreds of miles either
side of the storm center," according to a blog posted on Weather
Underground (www.wunderground.com) by veteran weather forecaster
"It's hard to imagine how millions of people are not going
to be without power for an extended period of time," he added.
As the threat of a monster storm began to sink in, shoppers
crowded hardware stores and supermarkets looking to stock up on
emergency supplies. At a Trader Joe's store in Millburn, New
Jersey, shelves were stripped bare of bread, bottled water and
Customers at a Home Depot in Willow Grove, a suburb of
Philadelphia, were greeted by big hand-written signs saying, "No
generators." The store received a shipment of 50 generators on
Friday evening and sold them all within minutes of opening on
Saturday, said January Introcaso, one of the store managers.
The store also sold out of flashlights and batteries. It was
a similar story at other hardware stores in the area, with
candles, tarps and rope also in demand.
Sandy killed at least 66 people as it made its way through
the Caribbean islands, including 51 in southern Haiti, mostly
from flash flooding and mudslides, according to authorities.
Another 11 people died in Cuba, largely due to from collapsed
buildings, officials said.
Tropical storm-force winds were being felt near the North
Carolina coast. There were tropical storm warnings for all of
the coastal portion of the state, along with about half of South
Along North Carolina's Outer Banks barrier islands, which
jut out into the Atlantic, the winds and rains increased on
Saturday, and ferry service between Ocracoke and Hatteras
Islands on the Outer banks was suspended.
"Right now it's blowing pretty hard," said Ray Waller,
manager of the Ocracoke office of North Carolina Ferry Division.
(Additional reporting by Dave Warner in Philadelphia, Ellen
Wulfhorst in New York, Mary Ellen Clark in Connecticut and Sam
Youngman in Washington; Writing by David Adams and Tom Brown;
Editing by Will Dunham and Bill Trott)