Long Island is bracing for the wrath of Hurricane Sandy, a massive storm expected to batter the region with destructive winds, severe flooding and widespread power outages.
Nassau and Suffolk counties were under states of emergency as the Category 1 hurricane -- predicted to merge with a wintry cold front to create a powerful tempest -- continued its march toward the coast Saturday night.
Long Island officials spent Saturday making final preparations for Sandy, which at its peak, could bring wind gusts of up to 80 mph and rain falling at a rate of 1 to 2 inches an hour, forecasters said.
"The National Weather Service has advised us that this storm will go down as one of the top 10 in Suffolk County history," said Joe Williams, commissioner of Suffolk County's Department of Fire, Rescue and Emergency Services.
The Town of Islip ordered a mandatory evacuation for Fire Island to be completed by 2 p.m. Sunday.
Long Island should feel the start of the storm Sunday night with wind gusts of 40 to 50 mph, said David Stark, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Upton. By tomorrow night, sustained wind gusts will reach between 60 and 80 mph, he said. The rain is forecast to arrive Sunday night and continue through Tuesday afternoon.
Long Island Power Authority officials are expecting major disruptions, warning residents to prepare for outages of seven to 10 days. LIPA officials said flooding and sustained winds from Sandy could cause outages beginning Sunday, with the full brunt of the storm hitting the region Monday and Tuesday.
The storm is likely to cause massive transit disruptions as soon as Sunday night.
MTA chairman Joseph Lhota said the agency will not make a decision on shutting down transit until Sunday. The contingency plan, he said, is to shut down service starting 7 p.m. Sunday, with a complete shutdown by 3 a.m. Monday. MTA-run bridges could close if winds reach 60 mph, Lhota said.
Nassau's bus system advised riders to expect delays and service disruptions.
Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone and Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano Saturday declared states of emergency for their counties. The towns of Oyster Bay, North Hempstead, Long Beach, Hempstead and Huntington followed suit. Suffolk has requested additional state and federal assistance, including the National Guard.
Among the county's biggest concerns, Williams said, are water surges at local bays and rivers that could exceed 10 feet, potentially flooding streets and homes. "People need to take this storm very seriously," he said.
The impact could be even greater as Sandy arrives during Monday's full moon, when tides are near their highest.
As a precaution, Good Samaritan Hospital Medical Center in West Islip is evacuating 100 patients from their lower floors, Williams said. Long Beach Medical Center also agreed to relocate all patients to Nassau University Medical Center in East Meadow, Mangano said.
Suffolk will open three emergency shelters and two pet shelters Sunday.
Mangano ordered mandatory evacuations for Long Beach Medical Center and four nursing home facilities on the barrier island. He also announced that all county parks, marinas and senior centers would close Sunday at 5 p.m.
New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg Saturday held off on ordering evacuations, but officials said lower Manhattan is vulnerable to flooding. They predicted a possible record storm surge in that area tomorrow night.
Forecasters have predicted some areas across the nation will be pelted with 12 inches of rain, 2 feet of snow and sustained 40 to 50 mph winds. They warned the threat from Sandy isn't limited to the coast, and they expect the storm to also wreak havoc well inland.
With Mackenzie Issler,
Igor Kossov and AP