New York residents could start seeing the effects of Hurricane Sandy on Sunday and can expect them to last into midweek, causing significant damage to utilities, transportation and public safety, state officials said Saturday.
"The National Weather Service believes there is increasing potential for high winds, coastal flooding and heavy rains across a broad area for a lengthy period of time Sunday through Tuesday," said Howard Glaser, director of New York State Operations. "While the exact landfall of the storm is uncertain, it's known that it's over a very broad area."
If Sandy makes a direct hit to the southern part of the metropolitan area, New York City and Long Island will see the worst of it, Glaser said.
Staff at more than 65 evacuation shelters throughout the five boroughs in New York City are checking supplies and are being prepped to open.
"Everybody is truly watching what is going to happen with the storm," said John Berglund, the director of Greater New York Emergency Services for The Salvation Army. "Everyone wants to be very cautious. We're talking about a high-density population with strong storm surges. Your power and utilities may be out for days."
In the Rockaways in Queens -- considered a flood-prone zone -- more than 60 patients on ventilators in nursing homes must be evacuated by 5 p.m. Sunday. Staffing levels at nursing homes across New York in Sandy's path must be at 150 percent by the same deadline, said Dr. Nirav Shah, state health commissioner.
"This is important because we don't know what's going to happen in terms of transportation," Dr. Shah said. "We want to make sure should a prolonged power outage occur, there will be adequate staff to care for patients in these settings."
Fuel, food and medication levels must also be checked and stocked, Dr. Shah said.
Local hospitals are making similar preparations. At Good Samaritan Hospital in Suffern, there are redundant power systems, 40,000 gallons of bottled water and enough food to last a week, spokeswoman Deborah Marshall said. The hospital has converted its auditorium to a barracks, with 150 cots for nurses, doctors and other staffers to crash on if they can't get home during the peak of the storm.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Friday declared a state of emergency in New York and opened its Emergency Operations Center; New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and Connecticut Gov. Dannel Malloy followed suit Saturday. Mandatory evacuations are set to begin in the southern part of New Jersey's barrier islands Sunday.
The Metropolitan Transportation Authority canceled Sunday's Metro-North train on the New Haven line to the 1 p.m. New York Jets-Miami Dolphins pro football game at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J., in anticipation of the storm's effects on service. A determination will be made on Sunday if Metro-North and other MTA services will be shut down for the storm.
Berglund said Hudson Valley residents should be ready to hunker down in their homes for up to two days after the storm hits.
"The major concern is going to be when these systems merge," Berglund said. "The rain will come down very heavy and very quickly. You will see flash flooding and flooding throughout the week. Be ready to go a few days without being able to get outside in case of downed power lines and flooded streets."
Rockland County will open a shelter at Rockland Community College, and the Town of Cortlandt in Westchester will open one at the Brook Drive Community Center, but it has not yet been determined when they will open. Cortlandt will also have free sandbags available to town residents on Sunday from 8 a.m. until noon at the Charles Cook Pool.
"People are taking this pretty seriously," Berglund said. "It's a pretty busy weekend. All of this needs to be ramped up just in case."
Energy company Orange & Rockland Utilities is expecting widespread damage throughout the Hudson Valley and is preparing its workers for continuous repairs throughout the stormy weather.
Anticipating high winds, heavy rains and flooding, O&R has been taking precautions since Thursday and will hire enough independent contractors to expand by about 400 crews.
To report an outage in Rockland and Orange counties, call 877-434-4100. If you're a Con Edison customer, call 800-752-6633. Central Hudson customers can call 800-527-2714; NYSEG's emergency number is 800-572-1131.
Sandy has been upgraded again to a category 1 hurricane and forecasters say it will cross paths with two winter weather systems after it.
The clash could bring up to a foot of rain and nearly two feet of snow in West Virginia, eastern Ohio and southern Pennsylvania.
Last year, the East Coast was pummeled by Tropical Storm Irene, which caused more than $15 billion in damage -- and experts said Sandy could bring even more destruction.
Sandy -- which was about 335 miles southeast of Charleston, S.C. at 5 p.m. Saturday, boasting winds of about 75 mph -- killed almost five dozen people in the Caribbean.
The worst East Coast storm on record was in 1938, dubbed the "Long Island Express," which killed nearly 800 people. Jeff Masters, meteorology director of the forecasting service Weather Underground, said Sandy could be even bigger.
With The Associated Press