Sandy update: Storm strengthens as it heads toward Hudson Valley
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Hurricane Sandy neared landfall in New Jersey Monday morning and prepared to give the Hudson Valley an epic six-hour thrashing from noon to midnight that could bring storm surges of up to 11 feet on the Long Island Sound and the Hudson River.
Ahead of the storm's landing early Monday morning, Hudson Valley roads were eerily empty and only a brisk wind and crashing coastal waves hinted at what was in store.
At 6 a.m., officials closed the Bronx River Parkway, where low-lying areas are prone to flood. County Executive Scott Vanderhoef put Rockland County under a state of emergency, citing flood-prone areas like Piermont and Stony Point.
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The National Weather service reported that tidal surges of 6 to 11 feet could persist from Monday night into Tuesday morning and waves of 6 to 12 feet could batter parts of the Long Island Sound.
Tree-bending winds will pick up to 40 to 55 mph with gusts as high as 70 to 80 mph late this afternoon and into early Tuesday, the agency said, and rain will start late Monday morning and continue into Tuesday afternoon.
Governor Andrew Cuomo suspended Metro North and MTA train service at 7 p.m. and bus service at 9 p.m. He warned motorists that he would close the Tappan Zee Bridge if winds became too strong and mobilized 1,175 National Guard troops to deploy to crisis areas.
Westchester County Executive Robert Astorino said blackouts were potentially the storm's greatest menace.
"If the storm hits as hard as it might, we could be without power in certain sections of this county for many days, maybe even weeks, depending on the severity of it," Astorino said at a Sunday press conference in the county's emergency operations center in Hawthorne. "People need to have another place to go or be prepared."
Officials cautioned people to steer clear of downed power lines and warned homeowners using generators to be wary of carbon monoxide from the machines' exhaust.
Greenburgh Town Supervisor Paul Feiner said his residents were already following Astorino's advice. "A lot of constituents have already booked their hotels," he noted.
Neighborhoods along the Hudson River and Long Island Sound faced the additional danger of a storm surge that was expected to crest at a record-breaking 8.2 feet at about 1 a.m. Monday.
In Rockland County, Piermont police closed roads near the Hudson, while elsewhere officials told residents to move their vehicles to higher ground and marinas to lock down their docks. "It's going to be pretty vicious down by the river," said Victor Overton, superintendent of public works in Nyack.
The storm surge led officials in the Village of Mamaroneck to order residents living on Long Island Sound and Mamaroneck Harbor to evacuate before 10 a.m. on Monday. In Port Chester, the anticipated surge and flooding led officials to advise residents to evacuate low-lying neighborhoods along the Byram River.
Piermont closed the Northshore walkway, the Piermont Pier and two parking lots. Village police recommended that residents on streets near the river evacuate, with the option of moving to a shelter in the village's fire department.
Six inches of expected rainfall continued to raise fears of flooding, too, though officials didn't expect floods like those produced by Hurricane Irene last year.
In Nyack, Overton said he had dispensed 1,200 sandbags to residents hoping to stop rainwater from flooding their basements and garages.
Westchester County police were adding extra officers to their roster for Monday to deal with parkway closures, said Sgt. James Genesi. The force was making sure its vehicles were fueled up and stocked with flares and other equipment for redirecting traffic.
"We are ramping up personnel," said Genesi. "We're prepared not to give anyone time off, prepared to do 12-hour tours."
Others hustled to head off water damage. In Bronxville, 50 school workers emptied out first-floor classrooms and offices, moving supplies and equipment onto four 18-wheelers that could transport the items to higher ground.
Meanwhile, if efforts to staunch the waters failed, the Red Cross prepared to open emergency shelters 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 was planning to soon open a shelter in Rockland County, she said.
"We've been preparing for this since early this week," said Sherwin. "It's a huge operation."
Orange County Executive Edward A. Diana issued a statement last night stating that all schools, government buildings, parks and recreational facilities will be closed Monday and likely Tuesday.