Hurricane Sandy lived up to her promise of wreaking havoc throughout the Hudson Valley on Monday.
Winds caused more than a hundred thousand homes to lose power early in the evening. Flooding swamped coastal areas. Rivers burst their banks. And as officials closed the Tappan Zee and other bridges, roads and schools, they urged residents to stay inside as gusts continued to bring down trees and an 11-foot storm surge was expected on the Hudson River and Long Island Sound late tonight.
The surge was expected to coincide with high tide and gather strength from prevailing winds, pushing along the Hudson River at around 10:30 p.m. and slamming against Sound communities around midnight, said news 12 meteorologist Joe Rao.
Even though Sandy was downgraded to a tropical storm at around 7:30 p.m., sustained winds were expected to be around 45 per hour, while gusts were reaching 70 miles per hour on Monday evening.
As Rao spoke, residents living near the Rye Playland Boardwalk and Mamaroneck harbor were already coping with floods. “It’s going to bad if not worse than this morning,” said Rao.
In Mamaroneck, the crashing surf flooded into Harbor Island Park and Rushmore Avenue, splashing up to the doors of cars whose drivers dared to get behind the wheel. "This is the worst flooding I've seen since I was a kid in the '60s," Leslie Cowen said of the ankle-deep water.
Westchester County Robert Astorino urged residents to keep away from the river and coast tonight. Rye and Mamaroneck officials ordered residents to evacuate, while Yonkers Mayor Mike Spano asked residents living in 1,300 homes near the Hudson to evacuate voluntarily in anticipation of the surge.
“The worst is yet to come to come with sustained wind and potentially with high tides,” said Westchester County Robert Astorino.
Governor Andrew Cuomo closed the Tappan Zee Bridge to traffic at 4 p.m. and soon after closed The George Washington, Verazzano, Henry Hudson, Throgs Neck, Bronx-Whitestone Bridge and Cross Bay Veteran's Memorial bridges. At 7:30 p.m., he ordered the RFK Bridge closed due to 100 mile per hour winds. Cuomo shut down the MTA on Sunday in anticipation of the storm.
"Let's just stay sharp through this evening, through tonight," Cuomo said during a late afternoon press conference on Long Island. "Government is doing what it is supposed to be doing. First responders are doing what they are supposed to be doing.
Cuomo reiterated that people needed to avoid putting themselves or emergency workers in danger. “I once again urge citizens all across the state to remember their duty and to exercise common sense,” he said. “Stay indoors. Stay off the roads.”
The weather also led to parts of the Saw Mill River Parkway, Hutchinson River Parkway and other roads closing. Astorino had already closed the Bronx River Parkway. “The problem is, with the rivers and tributaries, there is nowhere for it to drain,” Astorino said.
Astorino’s also urged residents to stay inside, but despite his and Cuomio’s pleas, sightseers couldn't resist a visit to the Hudson’s shores to see the choppy water.
Julie Reyes, 19, and her brother, Julio, 17, saw waves toss a decaying dock and crash against the banks of the Hudson in West Haverstraw before heavy winds and rains forced them to hustle back to their car.
"I am an adventurous person," said Julio. "I wanted to see it."
At Haverstraw Marina, more than a dozen people drove to see the storm. "We thought we'd be the only screwballs here," said Rocco Suozzo of Garnerville.
‘More than 150,000 without power’
As the hurricane intensified, about 100,000 Westchester, 27,000 Rockland and 23,000 Orange County customers were coping with power outages, according to utility companies.
Con Edison, which serves most of Westchester, said it had hired 700 external contractors to supplement its field crews in responding to downed trees and power lines. O&R reported that 800 outside contractors will join 1,000 in-house employees in tackling outages that the utility forecast could last seven to 10 days or longer.
The operator of the Indian Point nuclear power plant, Entergy Corporation, dispatched 850 workers from Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas to the region to help utilities bring power back to homeowners, a statement said.
"They include scouts, who assess damage when safe to do so after the storm, and tool workers who will help rebuild the electrical system," said said Greg Grillo, who coordinates Entergy's storm response.
Fearing that the Hackensack River would spill over its banks, O&R closed its West Nyack Operations Center and sent those workers elsewhere.
'The perfect storm'
Up to 50 million along the eastern seaboard people are being caught in Sandy's crosshairs. The megastorm was expected to collide with two other weather systems that would intensify its impact, wreaking havoc over an 800-mile swath reaching west to the Great Lakes and from the Carolinas.
About 2 to 3 feet of snow were even forecast for mountainous parts of West Virginia.
The storm slammed into southern New Jersey early Monday evening, so the 20 million people in the Tri-State are managed to avoid the brunt of the storm. Rao said Sandy moved more quickly than he expected—almost 28 miles per hour at times — but, luckily, it lost steam when it moved away from the ocean.
'Stock markets close, shelters open'
The shadow of Sandy forced major U.S. stock markets to remain closed through Tuesday. The last time the weather closed the New York Stock Exchange was 27 years ago when Hurricane Gloria hit.
Most school districts in the Hudson Valley region also canceled school for Tuesday, as well.
Meanwhile, if efforts to staunch the waters failed, the Red Cross opened emergency shelters in Westchester County at the Mt. Kisco Boys and Girls Club, New Rochelle's Albert Leonard Junior High School, Port Chester High School, Yonkers' Lincoln High School and Longfellow Elementary School in Mt. Vernon, said Red Cross spokeswoman Carolyn Sherwin. The organization also opened a shelter at Rockland Community College.
With Tim O'Connor, Meghan Murphy, Christian Wade, Thomas Zambito and The Associated Press