- The Washington Times - Monday, October 29, 2012

Swirling from the nation’s capital to New England, a hurricane-fueled superstorm struck the most populous region of the United States on Monday with the type of brute force that had been predicted for days, flooding roads and knocking out power to thousands in the D.C. region as top officials begged residents to respect nature’s wrath and seek shelter for themselves and their loved ones.

Hurricane Sandy collided with wintry air from the west and north to create a type of combination storm over the Eastern Seaboard, gaining strength in the process as about 50 million Americans prepared for its landfall and hoped for the best. With awesome force extending 1,000 miles from end to end, the tempest caused storm surges along coastal areas, inland zones feared falling trees and standing water, and heavy snow socked the Appalachian Mountains.

Densely populated areas from the Beltway to Boston quickly gave way to abandoned streets and shuttered stores, while some last-minute shoppers picked grocery shelves clean. More than 7,000 flights were grounded across the affected region, massive transit systems in the D.C. region and New York City locked their station doors, and schools and government offices planned to close again Tuesday.

The storm made landfall Monday night and was predicted to dump close to a foot of rain in the mid-Atlantic region and heavy snow in the mountains of West Virginia’s Eastern Panhandle by Tuesday night.

As of early Tuesday morning, at least 13 deaths were confirmed as a result of the storm. One was in Maryland, where Anne Arundel County fire officials say a man was killed when a tree fell on a house and trapped him in Pasadena. Anne Arundel County Division Chief Michael Cox said firefighters were called to the home at about 11 p.m. Monday. The male occupant was pronounced dead at the scene by fire personnel, Chief Cox said.

Howard County fire and rescue crews took three people from a North Laurel home to the hospital for carbon monoxide poisoning at about 4:45 a.m. Tuesday. The people were apparently running a generator inside their home, without proper ventilation.

In the Carolinas, the U.S. Coast Guard rescued 14 members by helicopter from the HMS Bounty, a replica 18th-century sailing ship that sank in the storm. The crew was forced to abandon the ship, which was built for the 1962 Marlon Brando film “Mutiny on the Bounty,” about 90 miles off the coast. The Coast Guard searched for two other crew members.

Farther north, the New York Stock Exchange was deserted and the storm’s projected path put New York City and Long Island in the danger zone for a huge surge of seawater made more fearsome by high tide and a full moon.

“This is the worst-case scenario,” said Louis Uccellini, environmental prediction chief for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

In a conference call, Mr. Uccellini added this is the only time he has seen a hurricane as strong as Sandy married with the type of heavy snowfall that areas in West Virginia and southwestern Virginia saw Monday.

Elected officials and forecasters said the storm’s effect could punish the region until Wednesday. Power crews, many of which traveled from Southern states less affected by the storm, cannot begin their work until conditions are safe, prompting some to worry whether Sandy’s aftermath will have an impact on the presidential election next week.

President Obama rushed out of the battleground state of Florida on Monday to return to Washington and oversee the storm response. He arrived just after 11 a.m. to huddle with top administration officials for a briefing on Hurricane Sandy’s progress and meet with Federal Emergency Management Agency Administrator Craig Fugate and other Cabinet members.

In a televised news conference, Mr. Obama implored citizens to listen to their state and local officials and dismissed talk of the storm’s potential impact on the Nov. 6 election.

“I’m worried about the impact on families and I’m worried about the impact on our first responders,” he said. “I’m worried about the impact on our economy and on transportation. The election will take care of itself next week.”

‘Very, very violent storm’

In Maryland, Gov. Martin O’Malley pleaded with residents Monday to stay indoors as the storm system pounded his state as the result of a more southerly track than had been forecast.

“Hurricane Sandy is going to come over Maryland, she’s going to sit on top of Maryland and beat down on Maryland for a good 24 to 36 hours,” the governor said during a Monday morning news conference at Maryland Emergency Management Agency headquarters in Reisterstown. The storm closed the Chesapeake Bay Bridge and resulted in heavy flooding in parts of Ocean City.

Mr. O’Malley said he expected the “very, very violent storm” to down trees, cut power to hundreds of thousands and bring grave consequences.

“There will be people who die and are killed in this storm,” he said.

D.C. officials expected the storm to drop up to 8 inches of rain on the capital region, with tropical-force winds of 40 to 60 mph during the storms peak from Monday afternoon to Tuesday morning.

Mayor Vincent C. Gray announced that government offices would remain closed Tuesday, and city election officials decided to suspend early voting for a second day. An outage map from Pepco, the power utility that serves the District and surrounding counties in Maryland, indicated more than 1,800 D.C. customers without power as of the late afternoon.

In a CNN interview, Mr. Gray urged tourists in Washington to stay in their hotels.

Besides Metrorail and bus services, the D.C. Circulator and Capital Bikershare systems were unavailable in the District. The D.C. Taxicab Commission said drivers in the city were authorized to add a flat $15 emergency fare per trip, starting at noon Monday. The special fare would expire after 24 hours, unless canceled sooner.

The District set up relief shelters, accessible to all city residents, on Monday at recreation centers in five different wards. D.C. Council member Kenyan McDuffie, Ward 5 Democrat, said a shelter in his ward was relocated from the Turkey Thicket Recreation Center to the North Michigan Park Recreation Center so the former could resume its role as an early voting center in coming days.

Soggy start

Weather appeared more soggy than treacherous around the D.C. region in the early morning hours of Monday, yet the dreaded “Frankenstorm” that had crept up the coast all week began to pack a punch after noontime.

Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell told residents Monday afternoon that the worst was still to come from Sandy — especially in the northern part of the state, where Sandy’s effects are supposed to grow stronger by Tuesday morning.

“We’re concerned about Northern Virginia, where the wind gusts could be 70 miles per hour or more,” Mr. McDonnell said at a news conference. “It’s still a very dangerous weather situation around the entire state.”

While power outages have been limited — Dominion Virginia reported almost 10,000 outages as of Monday afternoon, down from a peak of about 57,000 — Mr. McDonnell said the situation was likely to worsen.

“We’d be shocked if those numbers don’t go up dramatically, especially in Northern Virginia,” he said.

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.

Businesses near the Hudson River in Hoboken, N.J., piled sandbags at their doorsteps and taped up windows in preparation for the worst of the superstorm late Monday. Even Carlo’s Bakery, home of the cable TV’s “Cake Boss,” was closed. But some businesses stayed open and made the most of the fact that many people had the day off from work. Music blared and a convivial atmosphere permeated the scene at the Victory Hotel Bar and Grill, about two blocks from the Hudson. Drinks were half-price.

The storm already was causing heavy flooding in low-lying New Jersey coastal communities eight hours before landfall Monday. There were reports of damage to the famed boardwalk in Atlantic City, where the multibillion-dollar casino industry came to a halt as the storm churned toward the coast.

The New Jersey Turnpike Authority closed nearly 40 miles of the Garden State Parkway, cutting off access to barrier island towns all along the coast south of Atlantic City. Officials in Avalon, N.J., warned on the borough’s Facebook page that the town was “impassable,” as floodwaters had even crept up into the borough’s firehouse.

The Press of Atlantic City reported that city officials were relocating people from its shelters to get out of the path of the storm, evacuating to the nearby inland town of Pleasantville. The newspaper also reported that portions of Atlantic City’s boardwalk had been destroyed and some city homes saw up to 3 feet of flooding.

All along beachfront communities in New Jersey and Delaware, the storm was already drawing comparisons to the devastating March 1962 nor’easter that struck New Jersey and other coastal states, killing more than 40 people and wiping away entire blocks in some beach communities.

In Sussex County, Del., officials over the weekend warned of potentially historic coastal flooding.

Mr. Fugate said FEMA teams were deployed from North Carolina to Maine and as far inland as West Virginia, bringing generators and basic supplies that will be needed in the storm’s aftermath.

“I have not been around long enough to see a hurricane forecast with a snow advisory in it,” Mr. Fugate told NBC’s “Today” show.

Jim McElhatton and Meredith Somers contributed to this article, which is based in part on wire service reports.