NEW YORK — Seaports from New York to Virginia remained closed Monday as the Northeast and the mid-Atlantic braced for the huge hurricane that was slowly turning west and menacing the coastline.
Hurricane Sandy was gaining strength with winds up to 85 miles an hour and was expected to make landfall on the coast of New Jersey sometime Monday afternoon or evening.
All the marine terminals in the ports of New York and New Jersey, Philadelphia, Wilmington, Baltimore and Virginia were closed, as were rail and vessel operations.
The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey on Monday said it was closing the Holland Tunnel, one of the two tunnels between New Jersey and New York at 2 p.m. It also reduced speeds on the George Washington Bridge, the Outerbridge Crossing, the Goethals Bridge and the Bayonne Bridge to 35 mph because of the high winds.
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 were closed include Port Newark Container Terminal, Port Elizabeth Marine Terminal, Port Jersey Marine Terminal, New York Container Terminal on Staten Island, Red Hook, and the Brooklyn-Port Authority Marine Terminal. Deep-draft vessels left the terminals on Sunday and headed out to sea. The port authority said it was 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. Ships not already in the Chesapeake Bay channels were not permitted to transit in. Any ships already in the channels needed to anchor until the end of the storm.
New York City residents of low-lying areas were evacuated from their homes by 7 p.m. Sunday. Most businesses in New York City, including the New York Stock Exchange, were closed Monday and planned to close possibly Tuesday as well.
Related: Complete Hurricane Sandy Coverage .
Subways, public and private buses and commuter railroad lines were shut down in New York and Philadelphia. Maryland's transit system, serving some suburbs of Washington, said it would not open on Monday.
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."
Amtrak canceled nearly all service on the Eastern Seaboard on Monday and said it would halt its service north of New York along the Northeast corridor beginning at 7 p.m. on Sunday.
Forecasters expected the storm to hit Monday afternoon, just when its impact on the coast will be magnified by the high tides drawn by the full moon.
Terminals in the Port of New York and New Jersey had already put contingency plans into effect on Friday, 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 the 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.
For continuing coverage of the storm and its aftermath, see the JOC's Hurricane Sandy special topic page.