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LI braces for heavy winds, flooding as Hurricane Sandy approaches

Governor Andrew Cuomo said the MTA will halt

Governor Andrew Cuomo said the MTA will halt service at 7 p.m. as Hurricane Sandy approaches Credit: Chris Ware

Public transit will be shut down Sunday night, and more shelters will be opened as Long Island braces for the expected impact of Hurricane Sandy.

Cautioning that the storm "is nothing to play with," New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced at a news conference on Sunday that the Long Island Rail Road, as well as the city subway system and Metro-North will shut down beginning at 7 p.m. on Sunday in advance of the storm. City buses will stop at 9 p.m. Sunday.

"The transportation system is the lifeblood of the New York City region, and suspending all service is not a step I take lightly,” Cuomo said. “But keeping New Yorkers safe is the first priority, and the best way to do that is to make sure they are out of harm’s way before gale-force winds can start wreaking havoc on trains and buses.”

There was no word on how long the suspensions would last, although MTA chairman Ray Lhota said the agency hoped to have service restored 12 hours after the storm ends.

States of emergency have been declared in Nassau and Suffolk counties, as well as in the towns of Oyster Bay, North Hempstead, Hempstead and Huntington, and the city of Long Beach.

Nassau County Executive Ed Mangano said the county will be opening three shelters -- at Nassau Community College, Levittown Memorial High School and Locust Valley High School -- that will be ready by 1 p.m. on Sunday, although he urged anyone evacuating to consider staying with relatives or friends in areas not likely to be affected by flooding.

John Miller, CEO of the American Red Cross on Long Island, said that supplies had been deployed to 50 schools across Long Island in anticipation of the storm, and that the agency will work with both counties to determine if more shelters need to be opened.

Suffolk County and the American Red Cross have opened Hampton Bays High School, Sachem East High School and the Brentwood High School Sonderling Building as shelters Sunday, and there will be two pet-friendly shelters operated in conjunction with the Suffolk SPCA at the Brentwood Rec Center and the Suffolk County Community College Eastern Campus in Riverhead.

Mangano said that anyone who was affected by last year's Tropical Storm Irene's flooding and storm surge should evacuate immediately.

The area's airports are not being closed yet, Cuomo said, although he advised travelers to check with their airlines about any flights during the next few days.

Cuomo also said that 1,000 National Guard members have been activated, with 400 members to be sent to Long Island, and 200 to the city, along with high-axle trucks, helicopters and other equipment.

He also said that the state would be monitoring the response of LIPA to outages and customer concerns, referring to "issues in the past" that the utility has had. LIPA was criticized for its response last year to outages and complaints in the wake of Tropical Storm Irene.

Meanwhile, Long Islanders are preparing for the worst-case scenario Sunday, as Hurricane Sandy is expected to bring hurricane-force gusts and widespread flooding to the region.

Sandy's impact will begin to be felt Sunday night and is expected to last through Tuesday, said David Stark, meteorologist with the National Weather Service's Upton bureau.

"It's going to start to deteriorate tonight," Stark said on Sunday.

A high-wind warning will be in effect from 6 a.m. Monday to 6 a.m. Tuesday, with the strongest winds Monday afternoon and evening, Stark said.

Tropical-storm-force wind gusts of 40 miles per hour are expected to begin by sunset on Sunday, Stark said.

The winds will continually increase in power, so that by Monday afternoon and evening, Long Islanders can expect sustained winds of 40 to 55 miles per hour, with gusts of 70 to 80 miles per hour.

Strong winds will continue to batter the region through Tuesday afternoon, Stark said.

The winds will likely cause widespread downing of power lines and trees, especially since many trees still have their full canopies of leaves, he said.

Coastal flooding will also be a problem on both the North and South shores, Stark said.

"We could see a storm surge of 6 to 11 feet on top of already high tides Monday morning, continuing through high tides Tuesday morning," Stark said. "This is appearing to be a life-threatening situation for those on the coastal regions."

Stark said that flooding is expected to be the worst on Monday night, with major to record-levels of coastal flooding forecast for that time.
A coastal flood warning is in effect from 6 a.m. Monday to 3 p.m. Tuesday, and a flood watch will be in effect for the entirety of Long Island from 6 a.m. Monday to 6 p.m. Tuesday, Stark said.

While the impact from the wind is the greatest concern, Sandy will also bring some rain to the area, Stark said. About 1.5 to 3 inches of rain is expected from the storm, with some areas receiving 3 to 5 inches, he said.

"The impact from the rain may not be as significant as the winds," he said.

While high-wind warnings continue into Tuesday night, the winds should slowly begin to subside by then, becoming breezy and the weather should be much improved by Wednesday, Stark said.

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