East coast, Hurricane Sandy update: Florida cancels warning, NJ issues emergency

Brad KnickerbockerThe Christian Science Monitor

Saturday Oct. 27 11:50 a.m.

Latest reports from the Associated Press:

TRENTON, N.J. — Gov. Chris Christie has declared a state of emergency for New Jersey, ahead of Hurricane Sandy's expected arrival.

The declaration was announced around 11 a.m. Saturday, just before the governor held a news conference to discuss how the state was preparing for the storm. Christie had been campaigning in North Carolina before returning to New Jersey late Friday.

The state's office of emergency management has been activated and voluntary evacuations started from South Jersey's barrier islands. Mandatory evacuations there and at Atlantic City's casinos were due to start Sunday afternoon.

Christie was criticized for vacationing in Florida with his family while a snowstorm pummeled the state in 2010. But he gained fame the following year for telling New Jerseyans to "Get the hell off the beach" as Hurricane Irene approached.

MIAMI — All tropical storm watches and warnings have been canceled for Florida as Hurricane Sandy makes its way northward.

By late Saturday morning, Sandy was still at hurricane strength with winds of 75 mph. However, forecasters at the National Hurricane Center in Miami warn that the storm's formal category won't matter much. It will still dump rain and snow along much of the U.S. East Coast, and could push storm surge reaching 8 feet into some low-lying areas.

Sandy is a massive storm, with winds of 39 mph or more felt as far as 450 miles from Sandy's center.

A tropical storm warning remains in effect for much of the coasts of North and South Carolina. It is currently about 355 miles southeast of Charleston, South Carolina.

Saturday Oct. 27 9:00 a.m.

Sandy was downgraded to a tropical storm early Saturday morning, then upgraded again to hurricane status as it picked up speed en route to the United States.

"We're expecting a large, large storm," Louis Uccellini, director of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Center for Environmental Prediction, told Reuters. "The circulation of this storm as it approaches the coast could cover about the eastern third of the United States."

Experts said the storm could be wider and stronger than Irene, which caused more than $15 billion in damage, and it could rival the worst East Coast storm on record, according to the Associated Press.

On Saturday morning, forecasters said hurricane-force winds of 75 mph could be felt 100 miles away from the storm's center. Early Saturday, the storm was about 155 miles north of Great Abaco Island in the Bahamas and 350 miles south-southeast of Charleston, S.C. So far, Sandy has killed more than 40 people in the Caribbean, wrecking homes and knocking down trees and power lines.

Tropical storm warnings have been issued for parts of Florida's East Coast, along with parts of North and South Carolina and the Bahamas. Tropical storm watches were issued for Georgia and parts of South Carolina, along with parts of Florida and Bermuda.

Sandy is projected to hit the Atlantic Coast early Tuesday. As it turns back to the north and northwest and merges with colder air from a winter system, West Virginia and further west into eastern Ohio and southern Pennsylvania are expected to get snow.

Forecasters are looking at the Delaware shore as the spot the storm will turn inland, bringing 10 inches of rain and extreme storm surges, Mr. Uccellini of NOAA tells the AP.

Up to 2 feet of snow is predicted to fall on West Virginia, with lighter snow in parts of Ohio and Pennsylvania. A wide swath of the East, measuring several hundreds of miles, are projected to 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.

"It's 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."

Officials across the region continue to issue warnings.

“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.”