DUCK — A year after being walloped by Hurricane Irene, residents rushed to put away boats, harvest crops and sandbag boardwalks Friday as the Eastern Seaboard braced for a rare megastorm that experts said would cause much greater havoc.
Hurricane Sandy, moving north from the Caribbean, was expected to make landfall Monday night near the Delaware coast, then hit two winter weather systems as it moves inland, creating a hybrid monster storm that could bring nearly a foot of rain, high winds and up to 2 feet of snow. Experts said the storm would be wider and stronger than last years Irene, which caused more than $15 billion in damage, and could rival the worst East Coast storm on record.
Officials did not mince words, telling people to be prepared for several days without electricity. Jersey Shore beach towns began issuing voluntary evacuations and protecting boardwalks. Atlantic City casinos made contingency plans to close, and officials advised residents of flood-prone areas to stay with family or be ready to leave. Airlines said to expect cancellations and waived change fees for passengers who want to reschedule.
Be forewarned, said Connecticut Gov. Dannel Malloy. Assume that you will be in the midst of flooding conditions, the likes of which you may not have seen at any of the major storms that have occurred over the last 30 years.
Many storm-seasoned residents had not begun to panic. Along North Carolinas fragile Outer Banks, no evacuations had been ordered and ferries hadnt yet been closed. Plenty of stores remained open and houses still featured Halloween decorations outside, as rain started to roll in.
Ill never evacuate again, said Lori Hilby, manager of a natural foods market in Duck, who left her home before Hurricane Irene struck last August. Whenever I evacuate, I always end up somewhere and they lose power and my house is fine. So Im always wishing I was home.
Gov. Bev Perdue declared a state of emergency Friday for 33 counties in Eastern North Carolina. A statement from Perdues office said residents shouldnt be fooled by the storm weakening to Category 1 status. She said people need to take Sandy seriously and be prepared.
Perdues proclamation authorizes additional state resources to assist county and municipal governments. It also gives the governor expanded powers to respond to the storms impact.
Our states veteran emergency management team is ready for Sandy, but coastal North Carolinians need to be just as prepared, Perdue said.
Officials expect Sandy to affect the state through Tuesday.
Early rain and winds arrived Friday on the Outer Banks, a roughly 200-mile stretch of fragile barrier islands off the states coast. Winds of 30 to 50 mph were expected by Saturday night, along with several inches of rain.
A tropical storm warning was posted for the entire North Carolina coast, including Pamlico and Albemarle sounds.
The storm threatened to hit two weeks before Election Day, while several states were heavily involved in campaigning, canvassing and get-out-the-vote efforts. Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney and Vice President Joe Biden both canceled weekend campaign events in coastal Virginia Beach, Va., though their events in other parts of the states were going on as planned. In Rhode Island, politicians asked supporters to take down yard signs for fear they might turn into projectiles in the storm.
After Irene left millions without power, utilities were lining up extra crews and tree-trimmers. Wind threatened to topple power lines, and trees that still have leaves could be weighed down by snow and fall over if the weight becomes too much.
Disaster in Haiti
Sandy has killed at least 40 people in the Caribbean, and just left the Bahamas.
Though its center was several hundred miles away from Haiti, Sandys long tail continued to drench the poor island nation for the third consecutive day, leaving much of the countryside flooded and rivers spilling over their banks. As reports continued to roll in, the Office of Civil Protection raised Haitis death toll to 26, a number that could climb in a country vulnerable to mudslides and still recovering from Tropical Storm Isaac two months ago.
Prime Minister Laurent Lamothe issued an appeal to the international community for help.
We are doing our best, but we need help to deal with this, Lamothe said. The situation is disastrous all over the country. Its a major disaster.
Snow, rain, wind
Residents from Florida to North Carolina will experience peripheral impacts of the hurricane through the weekend.
As it turns back to the north and northwest and merges with colder air from a winter system, West Virginia and areas farther west into eastern Ohio and southern Pennsylvania are expected to get snow. Forecasters were looking at the Delaware shore as the spot the storm will turn inland, bringing 10 inches of rain and extreme storm surges, said Louis Uccellini, environmental prediction director for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
Up to 2 feet of snow should fall on West Virginia, with lighter snow in parts of Ohio and Pennsylvania. A wide swath of the East, measuring several hundreds of miles, will get persistent gale-force 50-mph winds, with some areas closer to storm landfall getting closer to 70 mph, said James Franklin, forecast chief for the National Hurricane Center in Miami.
Its going to be a long-lasting event, two to three days of impact for a lot of people, Franklin said. Wind damage, widespread power outages, heavy rainfall, inland flooding, and somebody is going to get a significant surge event.
Nonetheless, some residents were still shrugging off the impending storm.
On Ocracoke Island, which suffered a direct hit from Irene, the grocery side of Tommy Hutchersons Ocracoke Variety Store was bustling. But few people had been shopping on the hardware side.
People go through this all the time around here. Its not the first time, and it wont be the last, Hutcherson said.
Irenes toll: $15.8 billion
Last years Hurricane Irene was a minimal hurricane that caused widespread damage as it moved north along the coast after making landfall in North Carolina. With catastrophic inland flooding in New Jersey, Massachusetts and Vermont, federal officials say Irene caused $15.8 billion in damage.
Sandy is looking like a very serious storm that could be historic, said Jeff Masters, meteorology director of the forecasting service Weather Underground.
Mother Nature is not saying, Trick or treat. Its just going to give tricks.
The Miami Herald contributed.