By Melanie Sun
Henri weakened slightly to a tropical storm early Sunday as it was slated to pummel a long stretch of northeastern coastline, where millions on New York’s Long Island and in southern New England braced for the possibility of flooding, toppled trees, and extended power outages.
According to the latest advisory from the National Hurricane Center at 8 a.m. ET Sunday, the center of the storm is moving closer toward eastern Long Island and southern New England. It was about 40 miles SSE of Montauk Point, New York, and 75 miles south of Providence, Rhode Island, with maximum sustained winds of 70 mph, just shy of hurricane status.
The hurricane warning for Long Island, the southern coast of New England, and Block Island has been changed to a tropical storm warning.
Authorities are warning residents in the Northeast of dangerous storm conditions, including storm surge and flooding beginning Sunday morning.
Tropical storm-intensity winds were beginning to strike the coast Sunday morning. Rising tides threatened to produce a dangerous storm surge.
Heavy rains already saturated many areas late Saturday, including spots in New York City, and Newark and Hoboken, New Jersey, which saw up to half a foot of rain with flash flooding.
Residents and visitors on Fire Island, a narrow strip of sandy villages barely above sea level off Long Island’s southern coast, were urged to evacuate on Saturday. The last boats out left before 11 p.m. Saturday, with officials warning there might be no way to reach people left behind.
“I’m upset about it, but it’s the weather,” Long Island resident Pavese said. “I’ve been going to Fire Island for a long time, so I’m sort of familiar with this happening.”
Tropical storm warnings are in effect between Manasquan Inlet, New Jersey, to Chatham, Massachusetts, including Long Island and New York City; Block Island of Rhode Island; and Nantucket and Martha’s Vineyard of Massachusetts.
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, set to leave office Monday after resigning over a sexual harassment scandal, emerged Saturday to plead with residents to make last-minute preparations, warning that heavy rain, wind, and storm surge from Henri could be as devastating as Superstorm Sandy back in 2012.
“We have short notice. We’re talking about tomorrow,” Cuomo said in one of his final forays before TV cameras, a setting that shot him to fame during the worst of the pandemic last year. “So if you have to move, if you have to stock up, if you have to get to higher ground, it has to be today. Please.”
Gov. Ned Lamont warned Connecticut residents they should prepare to “shelter in place” from Sunday afternoon through at least Monday morning as the state braces for the first possible direct hit from a hurricane in decades. Rhode Island Gov. Dan McKee issued a similar warning.
Major airports in the region remained open as the storm approached, though hundreds of Sunday’s flights were canceled. Service on some branches of New York City’s commuter rail system was suspended through Sunday, as was Amtrak service between New York and Boston.
The White House said President Joe Biden discussed preparations with northeastern governors and that New York Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul, who succeeds Cuomo on Tuesday, also participated. Biden later began approving emergency declarations with Rhode Island.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.