Tri-state residents who were flooded out by Sandy waited with dread and heard warnings to evacuate for the second time in two weeks as another intense, but weaker storm spun toward them and threatened to inundate their homes again or simply leave them shivering in the dark for even longer.
In New York, Mayor Bloomberg 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 Wednesday's nor'easter could be weaker than expected.
Airlines at the area's three major airports had already canceled hundreds of flights by Wednesday morning in anticipation of the storm and travelers are advised to check with their carriers before heading to the airport.
American Airlines is shutting down in New York at 3 p.m. Wednesday. It's also stopping flights to and from Philadelphia at noon. Most other airlines, including Delta Air Lines Inc. and JetBlue Airways Corp., are asking passengers to reschedule their Northeast flights for a later date. They're waiving the usual change fees of up to $150. Sandy led to about 24,000 flight cancellations.
"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 as residents braced for yet another round of displacement.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency said 95,000 people were eligible for emergency housing assistance in New York and New Jersey. Throughout the tri-state area, more than 277,000 people have registered for general assistance, the agency said.
Though the city urged storm-ravaged communities to seek higher ground, some refused, choosing to stick close to the belongings they have left.
And weather experts had some relatively good news for those holdouts. As the storm moves up the Atlantic coast from Florida, it is expected to veer farther offshore than earlier projections had indicated.
Storm surges along the coasts of New Jersey and New York are expected to reach 3 feet, only half to a third of what Sandy caused last week. While that should produce only minor flooding, it will still likely compound erosion problems along the Jersey coast and the shores of Long Island, where Sandy destroyed some protective dunes.
The impending storm also carries the threat of wind gusts that could bring down tree limbs weakened by Sandy. High winds, which could reach 65 mph, could extend inland throughout the day, potentially stalling power restoration efforts or causing further outages. A high wind warning is in effect for much of the region through Thursday.
The 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 being moved.
Since the superstorm made landfall more than a week ago, killing more than 70 people in the tri-state area and leaving millions without power, police said overall crime has actually gone down. There are few reports of storm-damaged homes being looted.
But Alex Ocasio wasn't convinced. The nursing home worker 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 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 Ray 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, including 54 burglary arrests, 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.