A nor'easter winter storm closed in on the Northeast Wednesday, threatening to dump up to 12 inches of snow inland and cause new coastal flooding in the wake of Superstorm Sandy. Hundreds of flights were canceled or delayed across the region, while residents of a few areas hit hardest by Sandy were urged to evacuate.
By early Wednesday, a mix of snow and sleet was falling but not sticking on Atlantic City, N.J., and gusts up to 35 mph were felt along the Jersey coast, the National Weather Service reported.
A storm surge of up to four feet at high tide is possible, NBC meteorologist Al Roker said from Point Pleasant Beach, N.J., where crews were building a mile-long sand berm to protect the eroded beach.
"It's not a massive nor'easter by winter standards, but at this time of year immediately after Sandy's wrath and destruction, this isn't what we want,” added Weather Channel expert Tom Niziol.
"Mother Nature is not cutting us a break along the East Coast," he added. "We've got a lot of cold air in place down in the lower part of the atmosphere, and it is looking more like snowfall event for good portions of New Jersey, up through eastern Pennsylvania, right up through southeastern New York into New England."
The Weather Channel was forecasting three inches of snow in Philadelphia with winds gusting over 30 mph, a combination of wet snow and wind in New Jersey, with snowfalls of six to 12 inches in southeastern New York and New England.
"We'll have some rain moving in (to the Jersey shore) later this morning and this afternoon," said Weather Channel storm reporter Mike Seidel, reporting also from Point Pleasant Beach.
"It is cold; it has been cold, yesterday morning we had a record-low of 27 (degrees) in Newark. Yesterday's high got into the low 40s and we've got another cold night tonight," he added.
"There will be some snow mixing in along the coast. In inland areas, we could see some (snow) accumulating on the grass. The strongest winds will be this afternoon, this evening," Seidel said.
The greatest danger from the winds could be in turning Sandy debris into missiles.
"There is so much debris -- pieces of furniture, a refrigerator over there -- things have already gone flying just because the winds have been a little bit strong this morning," NBC News 4 New York reporter Katherine Creag told The Weather Channel from Staten Island.
"What sanitation workers tell us they're doing is they're trying to get a handle on all this debris, haul it and dump it elsewhere," she added. "But there is just so much, it's unsure how much they'll be able to take away later today. There are mounds of debris, wreckage all over the place."
In New York, Mayor Michael Bloomberg on Tuesday ordered police to use their patrol car loudspeakers to warn vulnerable residents about evacuating, one of a number of measures that the beleaguered city was taking even as weather experts said the storm could be weaker than expected.
"Even though it's not anywhere near as strong as Sandy — nor strong enough, in normal times, for us to evacuate anybody — out of precaution and because of the changing physical circumstances, we are going to go to some small areas and ask those people to go to higher ground," Bloomberg said Tuesday.
In New Jersey, Brick Township and Middletown ordered mandatory evacuations of the most vulnerable areas.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency put a number to the storm's homeless in New York and New Jersey, saying 95,000 people were eligible for emergency housing assistance. In New York, New Jersey and Connecticut, more than 277,000 people have registered for general assistance, the agency said.
Around 91,000 homes and businesses were still without power in New York City.
Some refused to evacuate their homes ahead of the nor'easter, choosing to stick close to the belongings they have left.
New York City was closing all parks, playgrounds and beaches, as well as ordering all construction sites to be secured.
Tuesday evening, the mayor ordered three nursing homes and an adult care facility evacuated from Queens' vulnerable Rockaway Peninsula because of fears the weather might knock out electricity already being provided by generators. About 620 residents were moved.
Sandy killed more than 100 people, mainly in New York City and New Jersey, and left millions without power.
While there have been a few reports of storm-damaged homes being looted, since the superstorm made landfall more than a week ago, police said overall crime had actually gone down.
But nursing home worker Alex Ocasio wasn't convinced, and planned to ride out the latest storm in his first-floor Rockaway apartment — even after seeing cars float by his front door during Sandy.
As the water receded, men dressed in dark clothes broke down the door and were surprised to find him and other residents inside, he said.
"They tried to say they were rescue workers, then took off," he said.
He put up a handmade sign — "Have gun. Will shoot U" — outside his apartment and started using a bed frame to barricade the door. He has gas, so he keeps the oven on and boils water to stay warm at night.
"It gets a little humid, but it's not bad," he said. "I'm staying. Nothing can be worse than what happened last week."
Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly said it wasn't wise to stay put. "I think your life is more important than property," he said.
Police have arrested 123 people citywide since the storm blew in last week, 54 burglary arrests and 41 others stemming from gas line disputes, Kelly said. Most were in areas suffering from the storm.
"You would think, under the circumstances, you would see much more," Kelly said. "We haven't seen that."
Burglaries were up 6 percent citywide compared to the same period last year, but overall crime was down 27 percent, police said.
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