Mandatory evacuations are underway in parts of New York and New Jersey as Hurricane Sandy barrels toward the East Coast — and transit officials in New York are preparing for a possible shutdown of subway, bus and train service in the city if the storm continues to bear down on the metropolitan region.
New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, however, on Saturday night said that he was not ordering any evacuations for the city at this time.
"Although we are expecting a large surge of water, it’s not expected to be a tropical storm or hurricane type surge. With this storm we’ll most likely see a slow pile up of water rather than a sudden surge,” he explained. “So it will be less dangerous, but make no mistake about it there will be a lot of water and low lying areas will experience flooding.”
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo issued an order on Saturday directing the Metropolitan Transportation Authority to start planning for an orderly suspension of service.
A decision on whether to suspend service won't be made until Sunday.
If the decision is made to halt service, New York City subways and buses would start phasing out service at 7 p.m. Sunday.
NJ Transit also began preparations for the possible shutdown of service. The systematic shutdown would require a minimum of 12 hours to complete.
Bloomberg said that 65 shelters located in public schools would be open, fully staffed and stocked, Sunday morning at 9 a.m. He added the all city parks would be closed by 5 p.m. on Sunday. As of now, city offices would be open on Monday. A decision on whether city schools will be open Monday is expected Sunday afternoon.
Still Bloomberg warned people to take be prepared, suggesting they get a "go-bag" ready, store water and to stay indoors. "Don’t get lulled [Sunday] when there’s not a lot of rain and not a lot of wind. This is a dangerous storm,” Bloomberg said. “But if it were to strengthen unexpectedly or change it’s expected path it could do a lot of damage and you could be at risk.”
New Jersey Governor Christie declared a state of emergency on Saturday and called for mandatory evacuations of barrier islands from Sandy Hook to Cape May and for Atlantic City casinos by Sunday at 4 p.m. He ordered state parks closed by noon Sunday.
In New York, Long Island officials issued a mandatory evacuation for Fire Island by 2 p.m. on Sunday. Fire Island has many thousands of residents during the summer, but this time of the year the 32-mile-long barrier island is mostly empty.
Bloomberg said the city was working hard to make sure the it is well prepared for the storm. "The storm is a dangerous and it might not act as predicted. But I think it’s also fair to say it’s nothing that we don’t think we can't handle and that a lot of damage will not be in New York City but outside of the city."
He was hopeful that rather than needing help from surrounding communities, New York City would be able to provide help to surrounding areas.
The effects of Hurricane Sandy, moving north from the Caribbean, are expected in the tri-state region beginning Sunday evening with rain and gusty winds, forecasters say. Tropical Storm-force winds can be expected in the region by Monday.
Long Island is susceptible to significant flooding, experts say.
The National Hurricane Center in Miami said Saturday morning that a Hurricane Hunter aircraft found Sandy had sustained winds powerful enough to upgrade it to a Category 1 hurricane. It had been downgraded to a tropical storm just hours earlier.
The mayor on Friday advised New Yorkers to find out whether they live in an evacuation zone in the event one is called and to gather a so-called “go bag” that includes a flash light, first aid kit, medications and identification among other things.
Low-lying areas include Coney Island, Red Hook, and other areas around the East River in Brooklyn, the Rockaways, Broad Channel, the Staten Island coast line, City Island, Battery Park City, stretches of the West Side waterfront, the Lower East Side and the East Village.
About 370,000 people live in these evacuation zones.
The MTA’s hurricane plan calls for an “orderly shutdown” of service if winds reach speeds of 39 mph. The MTA has cancelled its planned subway service changes, except on the No. 7 and J trains, which will only be affected on Saturday.
City bridges may be shutdown if winds are sustained at more than 60 mph.
Connecticut Governor Dannel Malloy said Friday he met with representatives of the electric, cable and communications utilities to discuss their preparations, and that electricity line crews were making their way to the state.
After Hurricane Irene, residents in hard hit parts of the state lost power for days.
With reporting by Associated Press