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FEMA Leader: 'Time to Act is Now' for Residents in Path of 'Frankenstorm'

National Hurricane Center forecasters warn against underestimating Hurricane Sandy. In Western PA, residents now are under a high wind warning as well as a flood watch.

Federal emergency management and weather officials on Sunday said the time for preparing for Hurricane Sandy is rapidly coming to an end.

"The time for preparing and talking is about over," said Craig Fugate, administrator for the Federal Emergency Management Agency. People need to be acting about now."

Hurricane Sandy is expected to affect as many as 50 million people as it makes its westward turn toward the East Coast. As of last Sunday afternoon, Western Pennsylvania residents remain under a high wind warning through noon Tuesday as well as a flood watch through Tuesday night.

While the most recent maps show the center of the storm tracking toward New Jersey, forecasters are hesitant to pinpoint a specific area for landfall.

Rick Knabb, director of the National Hurricane Center, said forecasters are still looking for the storm to come ashore somewhere between the Delmarva coastline and Rhode Island.

Knabb cautioned the public not to focus on the track of the center of the storm or that it is a Category One hurricane.

"I don't want folks to focus on the time of arrival because conditions are already starting to go downhill in coastal areas," said Knabb. "The system is large and of long duration...it could be a two-day event in many locations including inland locations."

Heavy winds are expected from the Carolinas to New England through the middle of the week. Those winds are expected to cause massive power outages. from the mid-Atlantic to the New England states.

Storm and tidal surges will combine along the coast and could produce flooding as much as 11 feet above ground level. By late afternoon Sunday, the hurricane center was posting warnings "of life-threatening storm surge" and flooding along the mid-Atlantic coast.

Knabb said forecasters predict inland flooding will become a problem early, especially in Maryland and Pennsylvania. Flooding could also be a problem in upstate New York, southern portions of Massachusetts and elsewhere, he said Sunday.

In Western Pennsylvania, the National Weather Service in Moon upgraded a high wind watch to a warning late Sunday afternoon. The warning cautions residents to be prepared for winds of 25 to 30 mph, with gusts up to 60 mph. 

Wind gusts are likely to be strongest Monday night and Tuesday morning before decreasing through the day Tuesday. That warning also covers eastern Ohio, northern West Virginia and western Maryland.

Those winds could bring down trees and power lines and could turn trash cans, outdoor furniture and Halloween decorations into damaging projectiles, according to the weather service. Residents are advised to secure those items and to be careful while driving.

The flood watch is in effect through Tuesday night for all of Western Pennsylvania as well as east-central Ohio, West Virginia and western Maryland. The watch means that flooding may result from heavy rain due to a stalled cold front and the aftermath of Sandy. 

Communities along streams or with poor drainage may experience flooding if more than two inches of rain fall Monday and Tuesday, according to the weather service. The region's rivers also may be at risk for flooding if heavy rain is widespread through the region.

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