Hurricane Sandy, a menacing storm that forecasters said would bring “life-threatening" flooding, churned toward some of the nation’s most densely populated areas on Sunday, prompting widespread evacuations and the shutdown of New York City’s transit system.
Officials warned that the hurricane, creeping north from the Caribbean, where it killed more than 60 people, could disrupt life in the Northeast for days.
New York went into emergency mode, ordering more than 370,000 people evacuated in low-lying communities from Coney Island in Brooklyn to Battery Park City in Manhattan and giving 1.1 million schoolchildren a day off today. The city opened evacuation shelters at 76 public schools.
The National Hurricane Center said it expected the storm to swing inland, probably this evening. The hurricane center reported that the storm was packing sustained winds of almost 75 miles an hour.
“We’re going to have a lot of impact, starting with the storm surge," said Craig Fugate, the administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency. “Think, ‘Big.’"
The subway closing began at 7 p.m. to darken every one of the city’s 468 stations for the second time in 14 months, as officials encouraged the public to stay indoors and worked to prevent a storm surge from damaging tracks and signal equipment in the tunnels.
The closing this year seemed more ominous. The shutdown before Tropical Storm Irene last year began at noon on a Saturday, and service resumed before the workweek started Monday. This time, officials warned, it might be Wednesday before some trains were running again.
The storm preparations and cancellations were not confined to New York.
Amtrak said it would cancel most trains on the Eastern Seaboard, and Philadelphia shut down its mass transit system.
The nation’s major airlines canceled thousands of flights in the Northeast. The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which operates the three major airports in the New York City area, said it expected major carriers to cease operations entirely by Sunday evening. The Coast Guard closed New York Harbor — cruise ships were told to go elsewhere — and the Northeast faced the possibility of being all but shut down today.
Federal offices in the Washington area will be closed; only emergency employees will be on the job. The Washington transit system — its Metrorail subway and its buses — will also be shut down.
The United Nations canceled all meetings at its headquarters in Manhattan.
Broadway shows were canceled on Sunday and today, as were performances at Carnegie Hall.
Schools in Washington, Baltimore and Boston called off today’s classes.
Many public libraries said their reading rooms would be closed for the day, and parks department workers in Central Park told people to leave on Sunday and to stay away until the storm passed.
The New York Stock Exchange, which initially said its trading floor would be open today, decided to close the floor and handle trading electronically.
Forecasters said the hurricane was a strikingly powerful storm that could reach far inland. Hurricane-force winds from the storm stretched 175 miles from the center, an unusually wide span, and tropical storm winds extended outward 520 miles. Forecasters said they expected high-altitude winds to whip every state east of the Mississippi River.