As Hurricane Sandy roared into the Hudson Valley Monday night Gov. Andrew Cuomo took the unprecedented step of shutting down the state's network of canals and bridges, including the Tappan Zee Bridge.
The Henry Hudson, George Washington, Verrazano, RFK, Throgs Neck, Bronx-Whitestone and Cross Bay Veterans Memorial bridges in New York City were shut indefinitely at 7 p.m. Monday. The Goethals Bridge and the Lincoln and Midtown tunnels will remain open, but could be shut down on short notice, Cuomo said.
The Tappan Zee was closed at 4 p.m. Cuomo said the bridge structure is safe. He said high winds make traversal of the bridge dangerous for motorists and that the bridge will remain closed until the height of the storm passes.
Canals were also were shut Monday afternoon.
"Travel along the canal system will be made far too dangerous by the winds and flooding that Hurricane Sandy will bring with it to New York," Cuomo said in a statement. "This closure will protect boaters and allow public safety officials and first responders to continue to prepare for the storm's arrival."
The National Weather Service issued an advisory Monday afternoon that warned of sustained winds up to 45 mph and gusts of up to 80 mph Monday night.
Among the last few stragglers to make it over the Tappan Zee Bridge from Westchester to Rockland County was George Heard, of Monroe, who was headed home to Orange County after helping a friend secure his sailboat at a marina on the Long Island Sound.
"It was kind of scary," said the 43-year-old. "There were a couple of gusts that nearly blew me off the road. Wouldn't want to have to do that again."
Beard was topping off his tank at the Interstate 87 rest stop in Suffern, anxious that gas might not be readily available -- -- or affordable -- -- in days to come.
By about 5 p.m., there were few travelers on the wind-swept Interstate, except for occasional state police and emergency vehicles. Wet leaves blanketed much of the highway and snapped tree branches lined the breakdown lanes, making for a treacherous drive for the few who were on the road.
Even before the bridge closures, the mammoth storm had disrupted travel throughout the Hudson Valley.
Major arteries such as the Bronx River Parkway were closed Monday before a single raindrop had fallen.
State Police canceled days off for troopers and called in extra officers to help patrol roads that might flood, said Major Michael Kopy, the commander of Troop K, which covers Westchester, Putnam, Dutchess and Columbia counties. In a storm the magnitude of Sandy, most roads will be subject to flooding, Kopy said.
"Really, we're just encouraging people to stay off the roads," he said. "I think it's working. We've noticed volume today is much lighter than usual on a Monday."
Rockland County Executive C. Scott Vanderhoef issued an order restricting all nonessential vehicles between the hours of 6 p.m. Monday and 8 a.m. Tuesday on debris-covered county roads. Vanderhoef says it's critical that all roads are clear for emergency personnel to respond to hurricane-related emergencies.
In Westchester County, heavy rainstorms usually mean flooding for three major roads: the Saw Mill River Parkway, The Hutchinson River Parkway, and the Bronx River Parkway, which was closed earlier in the day.
"That's because those parkways are all very close to the rivers after which they are named," said Kiernan O'Leary, a spokesman for the Westchester County Police.
As rivers and streams in Westchester tend to be shallow and narrow, they overflow quickly and are doubly dangerous for motorists, O'Leary said.
"It literally can happen in a flash," he said.
O'Leary cautioned motorists to respect barricades.
"I'd say 99 times out of 100 when people get stuck on a flooded road, it's because they drove around the cones or barriers," he said.
While the Saw Mill and Hutchinson parkways remained open at 7 p.m. Monday, several sections of the roadways were blocked by fallen trees and debris, Westchester Police said. A section southbound Hutchinson, from the Cross County Parkway to Sanford Road, was closed. Police said the parkways could be closed down late Monday if conditions deteriorated.
The closing on the 57-year-old Tappan Zee -- one of only a handful of bridges connecting the two sides of the Hudson River at its widest section -- was unprecedented, according to state transportation officials, though no one was certain Monday night when the bridge was last shut down, if ever.
"I've been in New York more than 16 years and I don't remember it closing down," said Brian Conybeare, a special adviser to Cuomo on the Tappan Zee bridge replacement project.
Here are a few current road closures in the Hudson Valley.
• Bronx River Parkway was closed at 6 a.m. Monday from the Sprain Brook Parkway split in Mount Pleasant to the Westchester County line.
• Route 6 -- Bear Mountain Bridge Road -- is closed between Annsville and the Bear Mountain Bridge due to flooding.
• The Middle Street Bridge in Port Chester is closed. Portions of Avendroth Avenue and Adee Street are also closed.
• Piermont Avenue, Paradise Avenue, Ferdon Avenue-northbound, and South Piermont Avenue between the Rockland Avenue extension and Ferdon Avenue are closed because of flooding.
• Mt. Hope Road, between CR 60 (Tally Ho Rd.) and Reinhardt Road.
• New Vernon Road, from Ledge Road and Shoddy Hollow Road.
• Forge Hill Road, from Butterhill Road to Route 9W
• Greenville Turnpike, between Grahamtown Road and Mullock Road
NEW YORK CITY
• The flood-prone Holland Tunnel and Brooklyn Battery Tunnel have been closed.