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Hurricane Sandy causes evacuations, closings throughout East Coast

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Hurricane Sandy

Hurricane Sandy

As mammoth storm system Hurricane Sandy conspired to assault the most populous part of the United States, hundreds of thousands of people moved to higher ground and cities announced shutdowns that typically occur after several feet of snow.

The Washington region’s entire public transit system — Metro, Virginia Railway Express and the Maryland Transportation System — ceased operations. Schools, colleges and universities closed Monday, and some have already announced they’ll close Tuesday and Wednesday as well.

Cities north along the Eastern Seaboard took similar action. New York Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg (I) ordered the evacuation of Coney Island and Lower Manhattan, and authorities shut down the city’s schools and its subway system, effectively bringing the nation’s largest city to a near halt. More than 60 miles inland, Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter (D) urged people to leave low-lying neighborhoods.

Even the New York Stock Exchange will close floor trading on Monday and move to an electronic-only system.

Thousands of flights in and out of eastern cities were canceled, and utility crews were summoned from distant states after it was predicted that 10 million people might lose electricity.

In the Washington area, utilities used robo-calls to warn residents to prepare to be without power for days or weeks. But there was hope that local power systems rebuilt after the intense windstorm known as the “derecho” in June might better stand up to Sandy.

“Pepco has committed all its resources to Hurricane Sandy,” said Thomas H. Graham, the company’s regional president. “Because of the magnitude of the storm, we will not be issuing estimated restoration times until the storm has passed and a preliminary damage assessment has been conducted. At that time, a global estimated restoration time will be released indicating when we expect to have 90 percent of customers restored.”

High winds — including hurricane-force gusts of 60 mph to 70 mph — should continue to hit the D.C. region through Tuesday evening, according to the National Weather Service. Sustained winds of 30 mph to 40 mph starting at 8 a.m. Monday are expected to increase to 45 mph around noon.

Hurricane Sandy and its co-conspirators — a jet stream barricade to the west, a strong nor’easter and a full moon that drives tides to abnormal heights — were not be be trifled with, forecasters warned. The full moon on Monday will add 2 to 3 inches to the storm surge in New York, said Weather Underground meteorologist Jeff Masters.

“This storm is a killer storm that will likely take more lives as she makes landfall,” said Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley (D). “This is a very large and unprecedented storm. It will be a couple of days before it will be even safe to get linemen out on the streets [and] up in the bucket trucks and reconnecting people to power.”

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