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In Silver Spring, morning commuters who would normally flow through the turnstiles of the city’s downtown Metrorail station heeded alerts to stay away from the dormant transit system. Gates on either side of the station were chained, and although there was no sign to explain the rare closure, it would be nearly impossible for area residents not to know why the system that serves about 1.2 million weekday customers had decided to shut down. Metro officials Monday afternoon said the system would remain closed at least into Tuesday morning, at which time officials would evaluate conditions.

About a block away from the Silver Spring Metrorail station, at the Blairs shopping center, customers made last-minute purchases at the Giant supermarket, where the bottled-water section was barren except for a few cases on either end of the aisle. Rob Ryan of Silver Spring said he picked up cranberry juice, toilet paper, asparagus and salmon after he was rerouted from his commute to Wheaton.

“They called and said, ‘Don’t bother coming in,’” he said.

Due south in the nation’s capital, the D.C. Department of Transportation urged motorists to treat signaled traffic intersections as a four-way stops. Although the city has 1,700 signaled intersections, the agency was able to send generators to only 200 major ones.

In Old Town Alexandria, most residents heeded the warning to stay inside, but some braved the whipping rain with high boots and umbrellas to explore the riverside, run errands or even go for a late-morning jog. By 10 a.m., Alexandria police officers posted wooden barriers warning not to cross areas where standing water was beginning to pool a block from the Potomac River.

Town homes at the Harborside community had their garages taped shut with plastic tarps and weighted down by sandbags to stop the flow of rising water.

At the Christmas Attic along Union Street in Old Town — one block up from the river — co-owner Cheri Hennessy was beginning to clear the store’s bottom floor for inevitable flooding.

“We had 4 feet of water from [Hurricane] Isabel,” Ms. Hennessy said. “Hopefully I’m over-reacting, but we’ll clear everything out of the front of the store and depending on what happens, work on the back inventory of the store.”

Up the East Coast

In New York City, where 375,000 people were ordered to clear out, authorities closed the Holland Tunnel, which connects New York and New Jersey, and a tunnel between Manhattan and Brooklyn. Street grates above the subway were boarded up, but officials still worried that seawater would seep in and damage the electrical switches.

In the morning, water was already splashing over the seawalls at the southern tip of Manhattan and had matched the levels seen during Hurricane Irene in August 2011. Still, people were out jogging, walking their dogs and even taking children out in strollers amid gusts of wind.

“We’re high up enough, so I’m not worried about flooding,” said Mark Vial, who was pushing his 2-year-old daughter, Maziyar, in a stroller outside their building, where they live on the 15th floor. “There’s plenty of food. We’ll be OK.”

As the storm closed in, a crane dangled precariously in the wind off a 65-story luxury building in New York City, and the streets were cleared as a precaution.

Water was already a foot deep on the streets of Lindenhurst, N.Y., along the southern edge of Long Island, and the canals around the island’s Great South Bay were bulging two hours before high tide.

The nation’s major stock exchanges closed for the day, the first unplanned shutdown since the Sept. 11 attacks in 2001. Wall Street expected to remain closed Tuesday. The United Nations canceled all meetings at its New York headquarters.

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