Hurricane Sandy liveblog: Obama says government will respond 'big and fast' (+video)

President Obama met Sunday with Federal Emergency Management Officials in Washington. 'We will cut through red tape,' he said. 'We are not going to get bogged down with a lot of rules.'

By , Staff writer

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    President Barack Obama with Federal Emergency Management Agency Deputy Administrator Richard Serino (L) and Administrator William Craig Fugate (R), urges Americans to take safety measures after a briefing about Hurricane Sandy.
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Sunday Oct. 28 3:20 p.m.

President Obama’s comments Sunday, plus how Hurricane Sandy is affecting Obama’s and Mitt Romney’s presidential campaigns. From Associated Press reports.

President Barack Obama said Sunday that the storm taking aim at the East Coast is a "serious and big storm" that will be slow-moving and might take time to clear up. The government would "respond big and respond fast" after it hits, he said.

Recommended: Hurricane preparedness: 5 things you can do to keep safe

Obama met with federal emergency officials for an update on the storm's path and the danger it poses to the Mid-Atlantic and New England.

"My main message to everybody involved is that we have to take this seriously," Obama said. He urged people to "listen to your local officials."

The president said emergency officials were confident that staging for the storm was in place.

Obama made the comments after a briefing by Federal Emergency Management Agency officials that was led by Administrator Craig Fugate. The group participated in a conference call with governors from states in the storm's path. The president also met with FEMA workers and thanked them.

"My message to the governors as well as to the mayors is anything they need, we will be there, and we will cut through red tape. We are not going to get bogged down with a lot of rules," he said. "We want to make sure we are anticipating and leaning forward into making sure that we have the best possible response to what is going to be a big and messy system.

Meanwhile, Mitt Romney and Barack Obama frantically sought to close to the deal with voters in the precious few days left in an incredibly close race as this year's October surprise – an unprecedented storm menacing the East Coast – wreaked havoc on their best laid plans.

Ever mindful of his narrow path to the requisite 270 electoral votes, Romney looked to expand his map, weighing an intensified effort in traditionally left-leaning Minnesota. Obama sought to defend historically Democratic turf as the race tightened heading into the final week.

Wary of being seen as putting their political pursuits ahead of public safety, the two White House hopefuls reshuffled their campaign plans as the storm approached. Both candidates were loath to forfeit face time with voters in battleground states like Virginia.

"The storm will throw havoc into the race," said Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va.

Obama canceled campaign stops Monday in Virginia and Tuesday in Colorado to monitor the storm but planned to go forward with other events Monday in Florida and Ohio, with former president Bill Clinton at his side. Romney nixed three stops in up-for-grabs Virginia on Sunday, opting instead to campaign with running mate Paul Ryan in Ohio before heading Monday to Wisconsin, where the former Massachusetts governor has chipped away at Obama’s lead.

"Let's today when we get home put in our prayers the people who are in the East Coast in the wake of this big storm that's coming," Ryan said in Celina, Ohio.

Sunday Oct. 28 12:40 a.m.

Could Hurricane Sandy affect the outcome of the presidential race? Who does this barreling meteorological behemoth help or hurt most, President Obama or Mitt Romney? Mike Allen at Politico.com, one of the best-sourced guys covering politics, muses thusly:

The October Surprise turns out to be a superstorm with the deceptively placid name of Sandy, raising the possibility of another asterisk election if power is out for much of the final week, or even on Election Day, in key parts of Virginia and/or Ohio. Just the frenzy around the forecast could disrupt this week's early voting, which probably hurts President Obama. But he also has an opportunity to be seen as president – a commander-in-chief moment. So no one's sure, but it's a huge topic in Boston and Chicago. Here is the take from some of the smartest people in politics:

A top Democrat: "Anything that disrupts campaign/candidate schedules at this point in the race is significant. These events are important to the campaigns as a way of activating and energizing voters (even more important in early voting states). The earned media pieces can be made up in other ways (satellite interviews, etc.), but there is no substitute for candidate travel. ...

"Also, nothing galvanizes attention or sucks up more media bandwidth than a major weather event. The storm led all of the networks news broadcasts for the last three days and will do so for the next three, at least. I guess the net-net of that is that it helps freeze or solidify the race in place. If you believe that the President maintains a narrow but statistically important lead in the battleground states, anything that prevents Romney from getting traction or changing the dynamic is potentially important."

A Romney official: "The storm will help the Prez appear presidential but it's too late to move enough voters." An Obama official: "We remain confident in our ability to get our voters to the polls by Election Day. We had a big day on Saturday as in-person early voting started in Florida, with record turnout, and we expect that strong progress will continue ... into the week."

A Republican deeply involved in the campaign says that (literally) freezing the race may help Romney because "it diverts press attention [at a time when he has been portrayed as surging], but so much seems to be happening below radar now it might not matter."

Most clever take: 'Anyone who thinks they currently know who it helps/hurts is just making [stuff] up. This gives Chris Christie an opportunity to show leadership, and thereby help his reelect and [helps him] for 2016; unless it curtails Obama's [get-out-the-vote] operation in Virginia, in which case it helps Romney; unless it enables Obama to lead an effective federal government response, in which case it helps Obama; unless it takes Obama off the trail in Ohio, in which case it helps Romney.'

And a mischievous friend makes a devil's-advocate argument that it helps Romney: "Republicans are more motivated to vote than Dems…. Low turnout favors Romney. The storm can do nothing but depress turnout in places like Virginia and Ohio. And even Pennsylvania. People emerging from a week of no power on Nov. 6 are going to be in a grumpy, foul mood – not the kind of mood that screams 'vote incumbent.'"

Sunday Oct. 28 11:20 a.m.

Here’s what AccuWeather Senior Meteorologist Alex Sosnowski is saying about the damage and disruptions Hurricane Sandy is likely to bring to the Washington, D.C area:

Conditions will deteriorate into Sunday night with the height of the storm Monday into Tuesday.

At this time AccuWeather.com meteorologists expect wind gusts in the neighborhood of 60 to 80 mph in the city with the greatest frequency of high gusts on the Eastern Shore and the Atlantic coast beaches.

Gusts this strong will down trees, power lines, send loose objects airborne and loosen panes of glass in tall buildings. Walking through city streets will be difficult and dangerous. Avoid walking or parking under trees. Large branches can come down with no notice.

A general 2 to 4 inches of rain will fall with locally higher amounts on the Eastern Shore and in the mountains to the west. Enough rain will fall in the local area to bring flash, urban and small stream flooding.

The full moon Monday will amplify tide levels, but the track of and wind flow around Sandy will not push water northward up the Chesapeake Bay like Isabel did.

Sandy is forecast by AccuWeather.com to make landfall in New Jersey. However, since this will be such a large storm in terms of surface area, effects will be more than a hurricane hitting a small area.

There will be major impact due to wind and flooding, not only in the Washington-Baltimore, area, but as far north as New York City into portions of New England and as far south as eastern North Carolina.

It is possible the New York metro area experiences the worst of the storm in terms of storm surge flooding and wind damage, because of the angle and location of the storm striking the coast.

Sunday Oct. 28 9:00 a.m.

From WNYC in New York:

As Hurricane Sandy spun up the East Coast, residents of some flood-prone areas in the tri-state region were told Saturday to evacuate and transit officials in New York City prepared for the unusual step of shutting down service.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo issued an order telling the Metropolitan Transportation Authority to prepare for possibly shutting down all service on subways, buses and commuter rail lines. A decision on whether to cut off service is to be made Sunday.

"Suspending the largest transportation system in North America is a monumental effort, and it is imperative that we start the process before we make a final decision, and before the worst of Hurricane Sandy reaches us," MTA Chairman and CEO Joseph J. Lhota said in a statement.

When the MTA halted service during Hurricane Irene in August 2011 it was the first such weather-related shutdown in the agency's history.

RECOMMENDED: Hurricane preparedness: 5 things you can do to keep safe

Hurricane Sandy has been making its way toward the eastern seaboard, and could combine with a storm system from the west and cold air from Canada to bring heavy rains and strong winds Monday and Tuesday. The severity of this rare convergence was unclear Saturday.

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg said there were no evacuation orders in effect for the city. But he said shelters will be opened in 65 public schools on Sunday for residents of low-lying areas who are concerned that their homes may be affected by flooding or power outages.

"Although we are expecting a large surge of water, it’s not expected to be a tropical storm or hurricane type surge. With this storm we’ll most likely see a slow pile up of water rather than a sudden surge,” he explained. “So it will be less dangerous, but make no mistake about it there will be a lot of water and low lying areas will experience flooding.”

The mayor advised New Yorkers to find out whether they live in an evacuation zone in the event one is called.

Bloomberg said a decision on whether to close schools Monday would be made on Sunday.

Bloomberg said that 65 shelters located in public schools would be open, fully staffed and stocked, Sunday morning at 9 a.m. He added the all city parks would be closed by 5 p.m. on Sunday. As of now, city offices would be open on Monday.

Hurricane Sandy is expected to hit the southern New Jersey coastline late Monday or early Tuesday. It’s poised to meet two other powerful winter storms, and experts say it doesn’t matter how strong Sandy is when it hits land: The rare hybrid storm that follows will cause havoc over 800 miles from the East Coast to the Great Lakes.

"This is not a coastal threat alone," said Craig Fugate, director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency. "This is a very large area."

President Barack Obama was monitoring the storm and working with state and locals governments to make sure they get the resources needed to prepare, administration officials said.

States of emergency have been declared in New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut, and mandatory evacuations are underway in parts of all three states.

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie called for mandatory evacuations of barrier islands from Sandy Hook to Cape May and for Atlantic City casinos by Sunday at 4 p.m. He ordered state parks closed by noon Sunday. NJ Transit also began preparations for the possible shutdown of service. The systematic shutdown would require a minimum of 12 hours to complete.

Amtrak has begun canceling train service to parts of the East Coast. Airlines are adding Sunday flights out of New York City and Washington in preparation for Monday flight cancellations.

In New York, Long Island officials issued a mandatory evacuation for Fire Island by 2 p.m. on Sunday.

Coastal towns in Connecticut, such as Fairfield, Old Saybrook, and East Haven, have issued mandatory evacuation for residents in beach areas.

With the Associated Press

RECOMMENDED: Hurricane preparedness: 5 things you can do to keep safe

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