New York area families who were slammed by last year's Hurricane Irene are girding for a storm that promises to hit even harder. Still hours away from the worst of Hurricane Sandy, those who are in its path are in a state of high anxiety, holding their collective breath.
Kelly Salus, a 42-year-old mother of four from suburban New Jersey, has barely recovered from the hurricane last August, which left seven feet of water in her house. She and her husband were taken to dry land by boat.
It was there at the Pompton Lakes fire house Sunday where Gov. Chris Christie declared a state of emergency and ordered evacuations of the state's barrier islands and Atlantic City casinos.
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The governor has predicted that residents could be out of power for up to a week after Sandy, now a category 2 hurricane, hits land later tonight.
The town's residents were asked to voluntarily evacuate because of power lines so close to houses, but Salus said, "I don't know where we would go with no family close by."
The special needs teacher and her four children, aged 4 to 17, are homebound today with all schools closed in New Jersey.
Last year, she and her husband, who is in pharmaceutical sales, had no flood insurance because they don't live in a flood zone. They got help from FEMA, but were out of pocket more than $25,000 when flood waters filled their house, destroying the furnace, washer and dryer and most of their finished basement.
While cleaning out the basement in preparation for Hurricane Irene, Salus reached for a cast-iron roasting pan that landed on her head, breaking her nose and giving her a concussion.
"It was on a top shelf and I reached for it and it fell on me and knocked me out," she said. "I had two black eyes and I was starting a new job – I looked like mess, like someone had beat me up."
While coastal residents are more worried about the tidal surge, Salus said the rain and wind is her concern.
"I am hopeful if there is less than 10 inches of rain," she said. "Now we have insurance and a drain system and sump pumps...we should be able to handle it."
"We are as prepared as we can be," Salus said. "The winds can be a tad scary and downed power lines. But we saw the worst 15 months ago. We can handle it."
Lisa Palmer of Glastonbury, Conn., looks at old photos of the Hurricane of 1938 as she waits anxiously for another historic storm, Hurricane Sandy, to move up the coast.
"It's a little unsettling," said Palmer, 62, and a retired landscaper. "The Main Street was completely flooded. Stores had water up to the second-floor windows. People were polling in rowboats. We don't have a rowboat."
Palmer's home is on the Connecticut River flood plain, so she likely won't be inundated, but the town's sewage treatment plant could flood, as it did last year during Hurricane Irene, leaving them without water.
She has six prize goats, two of them milking. Hurricane-force wind gusts could also hamper getting buckets of water to the barn. "Livestock need fresh water all the time and those who are milking need more than ever," said Palmer.
"I have to get milk to the barn once a day and I am not sure I can tie a rope around my waist to get there," said Palmer. "I don't know how bad the gusts of winds are going to be. I am afraid to get out of the house."
Connecticut Lost Power for Days
Given past storms, Palmer is convinced, "We will definitely lose power. Last year we were out for eight days."
Her husband, who is a technology expert, ignored the storm warnings to go to work today, but Palmer is afraid he'll be stranded tonight when the full force of Sandy arrives.
"The governor called a press conference and so far wants the employees in the state to follow his lead and shut down all state employment," she said. "He will close the highway when winds reach a steady 45 miles per hour – and they expect that at 3."
Forecasters have said winds might reach 50 or 60, even 90 miles per hour or more in Connecticut by late afternoon.
Meanwhile, Palmer's 21-year-old son, who lives at home, but is serving with the Marine Corp Reserve's tree service, a subcontractor for Connecticut Light and Power.
"Last night they had a safety meeting and he was called," said said. "He was told to pack a bag with several days' worth of clothing, food and a can opener."
Back in central New Jersey where the brunt of the storm will hit land, about 150 boarding students are stranded at Peddie School.
English teacher Alyssa Peterson Morreale has seen hurricanes come and go in her native Florida, but Hurricane Sandy has got her rattled. She is holding down a dorm of nine teenage girls with her two daughters because her husband's flight home from Atlanta was cancelled.
"He was supposed to come home this morning, but obviously that isn't happening," said Morreale, 37, who has two daughters, 3 and 20 months.
The Hightstown, N.J., prep school asked all parents of students to pick up their children Sunday for the duration of the storm and cancelled classes today.
"We've been monitoring the predicted path and intensity of the storm, and classes will be canceled tomorrow," said public relations spokesman Deanna Ferrante.
The school has generators, as well as stores of food and water for those who remain on campus and a host of contingency plans.
About 70 students, faculty and staff responded to a call from the town to fill sandbags to protect vital areas of town. Last year during Hurricane Irene, the sewage treatment plant was flooded, leaving residents without water for days.
But for now, Morreale and her students are enjoying what would have been "pajama day" at school, relaxing in the dorm. School officials have ordered students to stay in the dorms after 1 p.m. today when the brunt of the hurricane is expected to hit locally.
"There are not too many people here and we are quietly waiting it out," said Emily Herman, an 18-year-old senior from Montgomery, N.J. She would have gone home, but her parents are in Spain visiting her sister who is studying abroad.
"Right now, I am excited," she said of Sandy's arrival. "I've had a whirlwind of emotions the past two days. But honesty, I am probably safer here than in my own town. There are generators and I don't have to travel."
One of the concerns is that the deadline for early college applications is just two days away – on Nov. 1. Morreale said she hopes colleges will be understanding about potentially late applications if the school loses power.
But mostly, stranded students are praying their Internet coverage isn't lost. "It would be a shock for them to be unplugged," said Morreale.