Hurricane Sandy threat launches mass evacuations on East Coast

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Masters said the storm could be bigger than the worst East Coast storm on record — the 1938 New England hurricane known as the Long Island Express, which killed nearly 800 people. “Part hurricane, part nor’easter — all trouble,” he said. Experts said to expect high winds over 800 miles and up to 2 feet of snow as far inland as West Virginia.

And the storm was so big, and the convergence of the three storms so rare, that “we just can’t pinpoint who is going to get the worst of it,” said Rick Knabb, director of the National Hurricane Center in Miami.

Officials are particularly worried about the possibility of subway flooding in New York City, Uccellini said.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo told the Metropolitan Transportation Authority to prepare to shut the city’s subways, buses and suburban trains by Sunday, but delayed making a final decision. The city shut the subways down before last year’s Hurricane Irene, and a Columbia University study predicted that an Irene surge just 1 foot higher would have paralyzed lower Manhattan.

Up and down the Eastern Seaboard and far inland, officials urged residents and businesses to prepare in big ways and little.

On Saturday evening, Amtrak began canceling train service to parts of the East Coast, including between Washington, D.C., and New York.

The Virginia National Guard was authorized to call up to 500 troops to active duty for debris removal and road-clearing, while homeowners stacked sandbags at their front doors in coastal towns. At a Home Depot in Virginia Beach, employee Dave Jusino said the store was swamped with customers.

“We have organized chaos, is what I call it,” Jusino said. “We organize a group of 10 associates, give them certain responsibilities and we just separate the lines, organize four customers at a time, load up their cars and get them out the door and then take the next customers.”

Utility officials warned rains could saturate the ground, causing trees to topple into power lines, and told residents to prepare for several days at home without power. “We’re facing a very real possibility of widespread, prolonged power outages,” said Ruth Miller, spokeswoman for the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency.

Warren Ellis, who was on an annual fishing pilgrimage on North Carolina’s Outer Banks, didn’t act fast enough to get home. Ellis’ 73-year-old father managed to get off uninhabited Portsmouth Island near Cape Hatteras by ferry Friday. But the son and his camper got stranded when high winds and surf forced the ferry service to suspend operations Saturday.

“We might not get off here until Tuesday or Wednesday, which doesn’t hurt my feelings that much,” said Ellis, 44, of Amissville, Va. “Because the fishing’s going to be really good after this storm.”

Last year, Hurricane Irene poked a new inlet through the island, cutting the only road off Hatteras Island for about 4,000.

In Connecticut, the Naval Submarine Base in Groton prepared to install flood gates and pile up sandbags to protect against flooding while its five submarines remain in port through the storm.

Lobsterman Greg Griffen in Maine wasn’t taking any chances; he moved 100 of his traps to deep water, where they are less vulnerable to shifting and damage in a storm.

“Some of my competitors have been pulling their traps and taking them right home,” said Griffen. The dire forecast “sort of encouraged them to pull the plug on the season.”

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