Emergency officials: Sandy will be 'long-duration event,' election impact unclear

Federal emergency management officials warned on Monday that Hurricane Sandy is likely to be a “long duration event” lasting into Wednesday — but it is too early to judge its impact on next week’s presidential election.

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Barreling toward the mid-Atlantic coast, Hurricane Sandy was to make landfall Monday night. Federal officials said it remains on track to bring an unprecedented combination of wind, storm surge, rainfall and snow from New England to the mountains of West Virginia.

“The storm surge forecast appears to be on its way to coming to fruition generally in the way that we had envisioned,” Rick Knabb, the director of the National Hurricane Center, told reporters on a conference call Monday afternoon.

“Certainly time has either run out or is running out for preparations in many areas,” he said.

As much as two or three feet of snow could fall in areas of West Virginia, and the storm surge around New York City could reach six to 11 feet, Knabb said. He labeled the storm a “multi-hazard event.” As for rainfall, he said: “Hopefully not more than one foot, but it certainly could be more than a foot in some places.”

While the storm system has increased its speed, Knabb said it was still expected to slow down again once it makes landfall. 

“I would not let our guard down anywhere along the coastline,” he said. “It’s going to be a long-duration event.”

Craig Fugate, the administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, said the department’s teams were “in place” and that FEMA had enough money in its disaster relief fund — as much as $3.6 billion — for the initial response to the hurricane. 

“We see no limiting factors for response activities,” Fugate said. 

He added that the agency might have to request additional funds for recovery and rebuilding after the storm.

Knabb said water levels would likely not return to normal before Wednesday, and Fugate did not rule out the possibility that lingering effects of the storm, or the damage it causes, could impact the presidential election.

“It’s really too early to say what the impacts will be of the storm,” Fugate said.

Both President Obama and Republican nominee Mitt Romney have canceled campaign events because of the storm. Obama said in a televised statement earlier Monday that the election “will take care of itself next week.”

“Right now our No. 1 priority is to make sure that we are saving lives, that search-and-rescue teams are going to be in place, that people are going to get the food, the water, the shelter they need in case of emergency and that we respond as quickly as possible to get the economy back on track,” he said at the White House.

The Obama administration’s response to the storm could become a final factor for late-deciding voters in the close presidential race.

Fugate said his biggest concerns in the coming days were people who didn’t evacuate as directed, as well as the potential for widespread power outages and damaging storm surges that could hit New York and other populated areas.

He said FEMA is ready with hundreds of generators and hundreds of thousands of liters of water and prepared meals for affected areas. The agency was also coordinating with big box stores in the private sector to aid in distribution, he said.

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