NEW YORK -- As Hurricane Sandy moved slowly up the East Coast on Sunday, marine terminals, commuter rails and transit systems began shutting down.
The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey announced early Sunday afternoon that it was closing all the marine terminals in the port to everyone except emergency personnel as of midnight Sunday until further notice.
It said the hurricane was expected to bring a near-record storm surge of six to 11 feet above normal high tide levels to northern New Jersey, Long Island Sound and New York harbor. “This is more than 5 feet above what we experienced during Hurricane Irene last year,” the agency’s announcement said. The storm surge in New York harbor during Hurricane Irene in September 2011 was four feet.
The port terminals that will be closed are Port Newark Container Terminal, Port Elizabeth Marine Terminal, Port Jersey Marine Terminal, Howland Hook Marine Terminal on Staten Island and the Brooklyn-Port Authority Marine Terminal. Deep-draft vessels have departed the terminals and headed to sea, and the port authority is providing a safe berth for numerous barges, dredges and floating cranes.
Farther south, the Coast Guard closed the north and south access channels leading to the Port of Baltimore on Sunday afternoon. That means ships that are not already in the Chesapeake Bay channels will not be permitted to transit in. Any ships currently in the channels will need to anchor until the end of the storm.
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced that all MTA bus and subway lines and MetroNorth commuter rail service would end service as of 7 p.m. Sunday night.
New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg urged residents of low-lying areas of the city to leave their homes by 7 p.m. and opened shelters for them. Many businesses in New York City sent e-mails or text messages to their employees announcing that their offices would be closed on Monday. The auction house Sotheby’s, for example, texted employees that its offices would be closed until noon on Tuesday.
The port authority said all PATH service between New York and New Jersey would close “so that trains and stations can be secured in advance of the storm, and protected against damage from high winds and water.” It said PATH service would resume as soon as conditions permit.
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie suspended New Jersey Transit service. “I can be as cynical as anyone," Christie said on Saturday, announcing a state of emergency. "But when the storm comes, if it's as bad as they're predicting, you're going to wish you weren't as cynical as you otherwise might have been."
Philadelphia transit authorities said they would begin shutting down service on Sunday afternoon. Maryland's transit system, serving some suburbs of Washington, said it would not open on Monday.
Amtrak, the U.S. passenger rail service, said it canceled nearly all service on the Eastern Seaboard on Monday and would halt its service north of New York along the Northeast corridor beginning at 7 p.m. on Sunday.
Where the storm may hit along the East Coast was not yet clear, but projections put the impact anywhere from North Carolina to New England, with the most likely target being New York and New Jersey.
Forecasters said the storm was likely to hit on Monday afternoon, just when its impact on the coast would be magnified by the high tides drawn by the full moon.
Terminals in the Port of New York and New Jersey had put contingency plans into effect on Friday and were securing their equipment.
“We’re taking this storm very seriously,” said Jim Devine, president and CEO of Global Terminals, which includes Global Terminal in Jersey City and New York Container Terminal on Staten Island.
He said crews at NYCT were welding blocks onto the crane rails to prevent the storm’s high winds from moving them. They were also securing containers around the terminal’s modular buildings to create wind barriers that would protect them from being lifted off their foundations.
Crews at both terminals were lowering the stacks of containers down to two-high to keep them from being blown over. Global Terminal was locking down the rubber-tire gantry cranes.
Devine said he expected the storm to hit late Monday. “It will be an open question as to whether we will come into work on Tuesday. If we really get hit, we’ll just close the facilities.”
Across Kill van Kull in New Jersey, the Port Newark Container Terminal said it had taken necessary precautionary steps to secure all cargo and equipment, including cranes, containers, equipment and gensets.
It said it was taking these precautions to prevent any injury or damage and to enable it to quickly resume normal operations as soon as the storm subsides.
In Philadelphia, the Philadelphia Regional Port Authority was taking similar precautions at the Packer Avenue Marine Terminal.
“Every time we expect any kind of high winds, we make sure everyone’s got the cranes pinned down with a hurricane tie-down, and we knock any containers down from three- or four-high stacks, said Jim Walsh, PRPA’s director of operations. “We’ll secure any loose debris from the terminals and make sure all the building doors are closed.