Evacuations were ordered in predominantly Jewish Brooklyn neighborhoods of Brighton Beach and Coney Island as Hurricane Sandy lumbered up the East Coast, shutting down subways and sending shoppers in a panic before she even makes landfall.
The oceanfront areas are in New York City’s so-called Zone A, along with Manhattan Beach, which city officials say are among the most likely to be inundated by the massive and slow moving storm.
“This evacuation is mandatory — it is for your own safety,” Mayor Michael Bloomberg said. “We’ve got to take some precautions today.”
Some 375,000 people live in the evacuation areas and were being told to leave even before a drop of rain falls.
The last major hurricane to hit the region was last year’s Hurricane Irene, which did its worst damage inland. A Holocaust survivor from Brooklyn died in the Catskills when her chalet was washed away by flood waters. A 5-year-old Jewish boy also killed by down power lines in Rockland County, N.Y.
Tens of millions of people all along the U.S. East Coast girded themselves on Sunday for Sandy, a gigantic storm forecast to assault the densely populated region with battering winds, dangerous flooding and even heavy snowfall.
Sandy, expected to come ashore late on Monday, could deliver a harsh blow to major cities in its target zone including New York, Philadelphia, Washington, Baltimore and Boston. Its center was forecast to strike New York-New Jersey area and then move inland toward Philadelphia and the rest of Pennsylvania.
The sheer size of the storm meant its effects would be felt from the mid-Atlantic states to New England. Officials warned of widespread power outages that could last for days.
In New York City, subway, bus and train service will be suspended on Sunday evening. Amtrak and other transit systems also planned to shut down.
Schools up and down the East Coast were shut down on Monday, even though the storm is not expected to make landfall until Monday night.
President Barack Obama, speaking after a briefing at the federal government’s storm response center in Washington, called Sandy a “serious and big storm” and asked residents to heed the orders of state and local authorities to protect themselves from its onslaught.
“It’s a very, very large system,” National Hurricane Center Director Rick Knabb said. “The storm is going to carve a pretty large swath of bad weather, both water and wind.”