DUCK, N.C. – A year after being walloped by Hurricane Irene, residents rushed to put away boats, harvest crops and sandbag boardwalks Friday as the Eastern Seaboard braced for a rare megastorm that weather experts said would cause much greater havoc.
Hurricane Sandy, moving north from the Caribbean, was expected to make landfall Monday night near the Delaware coast, then hit two winter weather systems as it moves inland, creating a hybrid monster storm that could bring nearly a foot of rain, high winds and up to 2 feet of snow. Experts said the storm would be wider and stronger than last year’s Irene, which caused more than $15 billion in damage, and could rival the worst East Coast storm on record.
The hurricane spun away from the Bahamas late Friday after causing 43 deaths across the Caribbean, churning northward toward the U.S. East Coast.
The death toll rose again in impoverished Haiti, reaching 29 late Friday as word of disasters reached officials and rain continued to fall. Officials reported flooding across Haiti, where 370,000 people are still living in flimsy shelters as a result of the devastating 2010 earthquake. Nearly 17,800 people had to move to 131 temporary shelters, the Civil Protection Office said.
U.S. officials are not mincing words about the enormity of the oncoming storm, telling people to be prepared for several days without electricity. Jersey Shore beach towns began issuing voluntary evacuations and protecting boardwalks. Atlantic City casinos made contingency plans to close, and officials advised residents of flood-prone areas to stay with family or be ready to leave. Airlines said to expect cancellations and waived change fees for passengers who want to reschedule.
“Be forewarned,” said Connecticut Gov. Dannel P. Malloy. “Assume that you will be in the midst of flooding conditions, the likes of which you may not have seen at any of the major storms that have occurred over the last 30 years.”
The storm threatened to hit a little more than a week before Election Day, while several states were heavily involved in campaigning, canvassing and get-out-the-vote efforts.
After Irene left millions without power, utilities were taking no chances and were lining up extra crews and tree-trimmers.
Residents from Florida to North Carolina will experience peripheral impacts of the hurricane through the weekend.
As it turns back to the north and northwest and merges with colder air from a winter system, West Virginia and farther west into eastern Ohio and southern Pennsylvania are expected to get snow. Forecasters were looking at the Delaware shore as the spot the storm will turn inland, bringing 10 inches of rain and extreme storm surges, said Louis Uccellini, environmental prediction director for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
Up to 2 feet of snow should fall on West Virginia, with lighter snow in parts of Ohio and Pennsylvania. A wide swath of the East, measuring several hundreds of miles, will get persistent 50 mph winds, with some areas closer to storm landfall getting closer to 70 mph, said James Franklin, forecast chief for the National Hurricane Center in Miami.
“It’s going to be a long-lasting event, two to three days of impact for a lot of people,” Franklin said. “Wind damage, widespread power outages, heavy rainfall, inland flooding and somebody is going to get a significant surge event.”