Sandy strengthens on path toward Mid-Atlantic

    The Mid-Atlantic is facing the heavy rain and strong winds associated with Hurricane Sandy.

    Large, frothy waves continue pounding New Jersey’s coast as the storm, which strengthened slightly, moves toward a predicted direct hit on the garden state.

    Officials issued a mandatory evacuation for residents along the state’s barrier islands.

    On Sunday, Gov. Chris Christie’s issued a typically blunt warning to those thinking of riding it out in low-lying areas: “Don’t be stupid. Get out.”

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    Atlantic City Emergency Management director Tom Foley says officials are sweeping the city’s low-lying areas for people who are still in their homes.

    More than 5,000 homes and businesses are without electricity, mainly in Ocean and Cumberland counties.

    Mass transit is not running.

    State of emergency

    President Barack Obama signed an emergency declaration for New Jersey. That allows the state to request federal funding and other assistance for action taken in advance of the storm.

    More than half of New Jersey’s 590 school districts had already announced decisions to close on Monday, and 247 districts have decided to remain shut Tuesday, as well.

    In Philadelphia, Hurricane Sandy’s advance has shuttered schools and opened shelters as the freak megastorm promises to bring dangerous winds and flooding to Pennsylvania.

    PennDOT closed Interstate 95’s Broad Street exit in Philadelphia before daybreak Monday in expectation of flooding. Mass transit service is halted, flights are canceled and Amtrak is offline while officials urge people to just stay home.

    The Red Cross reports more than 150 people spent Sunday night in shelters in the Philadelphia area while weather conditions are only expected to get worse through the day Monday as the storm bears down.

    Pa. utility companies reported only a few scattered outages early Monday, but anticipate flooding and high winds could leave some customers without power for days.

    Sandy was just one component of a massive storm predicted to come together over the eastern third of the U.S., threatening damaging wind, possible record-setting flooding and prolonged power outages. At 5 a.m. Monday, the National Hurricane Center indicated that Sandy had strengthened a bit since last check, with top sustained winds of 85 mph.

    Community comes together

    “I think this one’s going to do us in,” said Marc Palazzolo, owner of a bait and tackle shop on an inlet to the ocean in Point Pleasant Beach. He used the same wood he boarded up the store with in past storms to secure it this time, crossing out the names of hurricanes Isaac and Irene and spray-painting “Sandy” next to them.

    “I got a call from a friend of mine from Florida last night who said, `Marc: Get out! If it’s not the storm, it’ll be the aftermath. People are going to be fighting in the streets over gasoline and food,” he said.

    Yet Palazzolo was floored by the response to a Facebook plea he issued Saturday night for people to come help him fill sandbags to protect his shop and nearby buildings: 30 people showed up, many of them strangers. One man drove more than two hours from Bergen County to pitch in.

    Christie said a southern-state landfall will cause more flooding in the Raritan River area, while a Monmouth County landfall will result in more extensive inland flooding of the Passaic River.

    Know when to fold ’em

    In Atlantic City, an evacuation of residents from the gambling resort was under way, with people lined up at the Convention Center to board buses to shelters on the mainland. Emergency officials said Sunday afternoon’s low tide looked like a typical high tide, a worrisome development in this island city.

    “We have to play the hand we’ve been dealt and unfortunately this is a bad hand,” said Mayor Lorenzo Langford, himself a former casino dealer. Denise Faulkner was getting ready to evacuate for the second time in little over a year.

    “I’m real overwhelmed,” she said as she waited for a bus with her 7-month-old daughter, her 3- and 12-year-old sons and her boyfriend. “We’re at it again. Last year we had to do it. This year we have to do it. And you have to be around all sorts of people. Strangers. It’s a bit much.

    “We’re leaving just to protect the kids,” she said. “It looks like it’s going to be real serious this year.”

    John Williams, his wife Robshima and their three children also waited for a bus out of Atlantic City to a shelter. The family wants to make the shelter fun; they’ve packed the kids’ Halloween costumes and want them to dress up. One child will be the grim reaper, one a witch and one a zombie.

    “We’re just trying to make a bad situation good,” Robshima Williams said. “This was supposed to be Halloween weekend. We’re going to make it fun no matter where we are.” The family, she added, “Is going to go to everybody’s bunk and trick or treat.”

    The city’s 12 casinos closed for only the fourth time in the 34-year history of legalized gambling here. State parks also shut down.

    Lost in the flood

    Residents of northern New Jersey river communities braced for another round of the flooding that has become commonplace for them. Pompton Lakes has been hit by flooding several times in the last decade, most notably last year after the remnants of Hurricane Irene swept through the area and left dozens of businesses and homes severely damaged.

    Some in the town were already putting belongings out near the curb, in advance of the storm.

    “People are worst-case-scenario-ing it,” said Kevin Gogots, who has lived in the town since the early `80s. “They’re figuring, divide and conquer: They’ll take the stuff they want to save and put the rest out. Of course, if the street floods again we’ll just have things floating around.”

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