New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie announced a state of emergency at a Saturday afternoon news conference, two days before Hurricane Sandy is expected to make landfall -- most likely somewhere on the New Jersey coastline.
Christie ordered mandatory evacuations for all barrier islands from Sandy Hook down to Cape May and for Atlantic City casinos by 4 p.m. Sunday. State parks will also be evacuated by noon on Sunday.
To help with evacuations, all tolls will be waived on the AC Expressway starting at 6 a.m. Sunday.
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Gov. Christie urged residents to prepare for the worst and not to underestimate the impact of the storm.
"I know, I've lived here all my life too and everyone is saying, 'Crap, this isn't going to happen, the weather men always get it wrong, we'll just hang out and not really pay attention to this,'" Christie said. "Please don't. We have to be prepared for the worst here."
Atlantic City authorities say that buses will pick up residents at five elementary schools throughout the city on Sunday and transport them to shelter sites. City officials say evacuation runs will be made until the weather gets too bad. And, once winds reach more than 40 m.p.h., there will be no 9-1-1 response in Atlantic City.
A voluntary evacuation is currently in effect for all Barrier Islands and Bayside communities in Cape May County. A mandatory evacuation will go into effect tomorrow in which all visitors must leave Barrier Islands and Bayside communities before 4 p.m. on Sunday.
Sandy regained its hurricane status at 8 a.m. Saturday, as wind speeds increased to 75 miles per hour, after a brief downgrade to a tropical storm.
Sandy's intensity hasn't changed though and the the storm is actually growing in size. As of early Saturday, Sandy is churning 300 miles south of South Carolina and is on its way north.
The rain and strong winds will start on Sunday afternoon in our area, and areas to the south may see rain for much of the day. Monday is still the day for heaviest rain and strongest winds.
On Friday evening, Gov. Tom Corbett declared a state of disaster emergency for Pennsylvania.
Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter urged people in flood-prone areas to get out of their homes and to safer ground no later than 2 p.m. on Sunday.
"Don't wait," Nutter said. "If you live in a flood-prone area, make plans now to stay with family or friends."
He added: "Do not wait until Monday to figure out what to do."
Nutter also declared a state of emergency for Philadelphia Saturday afternoon.
PECO's Storm Center was activated on Thursday and several hundred additional employees are in place this weekend for emergency response, Nutter said. City leaders will decide on Saturday whether to open two shelters: West Philly High School and Roxborough High School.
NBC10's Glenn "Hurricane" Schwartz and Sheena Parveen said that Sandy is heading north into the Atlantic and will run parallel to the coast before veering to the left by 8 a.m. Monday. Where that left turn happens, and at what trajectory, will determine whether it hits the area directly.
The storm could unload 10 inches of rain, Schwartz said.
The National Hurricane Center predicted that the storm could pass over Cape May and Long Beach Island early Tuesday. High winds and hard rain could precede it by a day or two.
The shore is at biggest risk of flooding because Sandy will coincide with a full moon, Schwartz said.
Sandy weakened and slowed a bit on Friday afternoon, down to 75 mph winds. But meteorologists still described it as very large, and very powerful, and it is expected to grow in intensity while over the Atlantic.
"Virtually every computer model in the world is anticipating it strengthening," Schwartz said.
But Sandy may not technically be a hurricane when it hits land, Schwartz explained. Instead, it could transform into "a nor'easter that's as strong as a hurricane."
He added: "It's going to be a be storm of some sort…and it's going to effect us in a serious way."
A hurricane watch is likely to be issued for Philadelphia on Saturday.
Because Sandy is moving relatively slowly, its effects might linger for two or three days, officials at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration told reporters in a conference call Friday, according to NBC News.
The storm could become even more destructive if it meets up with a separate front moving across the country from the west. The result could be similar to the so-called "perfect storm" of 1991 that battered the coast of New England in 1991, meteorologists say.