Hurricane Sandy, on track to disrupt the lives of as many as 60 million people, shut schools and governments from Virginia to Massachusetts today, halted travel, prevented U.S. stock markets from opening and upended the presidential campaign.
“The time for preparing and talking is about over,” said Craig Fugate, administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Sandy “is going to produce very high, potentially life-threatening, storm surge.”
The hurricane is predicted to make landfall late today in southern New Jersey, then turn inland, according to an advisory from the National Hurricane Center in Miami. Sandy is expected to converge with two other systems, creating a phenomenon the National Weather Service has dubbed Frankenstorm.
Sandy packed maximum sustained winds of 85 miles (140 kilometers) per hour, up from 75 mph earlier, the center said at 5 a.m. New York time. The storm’s eye was about 285 miles east of Cape Hatteras, North Carolina, and about 385 miles south-southeast of New York, moving north at 15 mph. It is not expected to weaken before landfall, the center said.
The system, which killed as many as 65 people as it moved through the Caribbean, may cause $18 billion in damage and knock out power to 10 million for a week or more. As Sandy approached, travel hubs became choked with people making last-minute dashes home, while few pedestrians made their way along usually thronged streets.
President Barack Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney shifted their campaign schedules and canceled appearances. Early voting from Virginia to Ohio may be affected.
U.S. federal government offices in the Washington area will be open only for emergency personnel beginning today, and state governments curtailed operations, too. The U.S. Commerce Department said reports today on personal incomes and spending would be released online in any case. The Department of Agriculture said some crop reports would be delayed.
All U.S. equity markets will be closed today, including the New York Stock Exchange and Nasdaq, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission said late yesterday. Broadway went dark. Businesses and banks, including Goldman Sachs Group Inc. and Citigroup Inc., told employees to work from home as some lower Manhattan offices would be closed. The Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association recommended that U.S. bond trading end today at noon New York time.
Sandy’s punch may be felt from Virginia to Massachusetts, said Rick Knabb, the hurricane center’s director. The combined weather systems may dump as much as 36 inches (91 centimeters) of snow on West Virginia. Warnings of gusts as strong as 70 miles per hour stretch from Maine to North Carolina and as far west as Ohio, according to the National Weather Service.
Damage may range from $15 billion to $18 billion, said Charles Watson, research and development director at Kinetic Analysis Corp., a hazard-analysis company in Silver Spring, Maryland. As many as 10 million people may lose power, according to Seth Guikema, a Johns Hopkins University engineer whose computer model shows the storm’s potential effects.
Almost 6,000 flights were canceled in the U.S. through tomorrow, according to FlightAware, a Houston-based tracking company, and mass transit stopped in New York, New Jersey, Philadelphia and Washington.
In New York, Governor Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat, activated 1,175 National Guard troops, including 400 sent to Long Island and 200 dispatched to New York City.
Connecticut’s Democratic Governor Dannel Malloy ordered evacuation of areas home to 363,000 people as the storm threatened to pile up water in Long Island Sound, the state’s southern shoreline.
New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg issued evacuation orders for 375,000 people and opened more than 70 shelters before the 7 p.m. closing yesterday of the city’s mass-transit system, the largest in the U.S. It was the second weather-related shutdown of the 24-hour subway system in its 108-year history, after the stoppage during last year’s Hurricane Irene, which caused $2.6 billion in damage from the Carolinas to Vermont and killed 40.
Winds may cause a surge as high as a record 11 feet (3 meters), said Bloomberg, the founder and majority owner of Bloomberg News parent Bloomberg LP.
In New Jersey, Republican Governor Chris Christie ordered coastal barrier islands and casinos in Atlantic City evacuated.
“If you’re staying there, you’re just stupid -- I mean, just plain stupid to stay,” Christie said yesterday at a news briefing in West Trenton.
On the island of Brigantine, which is connected to Atlantic City by one bridge, about 70 percent of the town’s 9,500 residents remained, said James Bennett, director of its office of emergency management.
“My confidence is not very high,” he said in an interview at the police station. “We’ve basically been told to expect to survive on our own for a while if we get cut off.”
The storm is also affecting the Nov. 6 elections. Maryland’s Democratic Governor Martin O’Malley said the state would cancel early voting today, and polling stations will be open Nov. 2 instead. Virginia’s Board of Elections is open for extended hours to handle absentee voting driven by the storm, Republican Governor Bob McDonnell said. Connecticut extended its voter-registration deadline by two days, to Nov. 1.
Obama and Romney scrapped visits to storm-threatened states and headed to other competitive, vote-rich areas -- the president to Florida and his rival to Ohio.
Democratic Senator Mark Warner of Virginia said the weather would “throw havoc” into the race, and Republican pollster Whit Ayres said it might be enough to change its course.
“Anything could be significant in races that are this tight,” said Ayres, who isn’t affiliated with either campaign.
Residents along the East Coast had more mundane concerns.
Margarita Noriega, 28, a public-affairs professional in Washington’s Mount Pleasant neighborhood, reinforced four windows with tape, filled her bathtub with water, stocked up on nonperishable food such as beef jerky and energy bars, bought a back-up charger for her mobile phone and cleaned out her home’s gutters.
“They said three storms were going to get together and have a party,” said Jackie Socorso, 63, who dug blankets from her car and headed for the shelter at William Penn High School near her home in New Castle, Delaware.
Supermarket operator Kroger Co. and Wal-Mart Stores Inc. stocked their shelves with supplies. New York City hardware stores papered windows with signs urging passers-by to be prepared. Home Depot Inc. extended hours in many of its stores in the Northeast as people purchase plywood for windows, fasteners, flashlights, batteries, water and generators, said Doug Spiron, who runs the company’s storm center.
In Takoma Park, Maryland, a Washington suburb, Carol Blymire was preparing with a “cook off the fridge” party with neighbors.
Blymire, 44, a freelance food writer, said the menu includes two whole roasted chickens, braised pork shoulder, roasted kale and polenta with meatballs and poached egg.
“The rule is, everything that’s perishable that would require use of the oven, we’re going to make,” she said.