By Sally Voth
Hurricane Sandy is expected to track more west and south than had been thought, "meaning more significant impacts for Northern Virginia," Gov. Bob McDonnell said in a Monday afternoon press conference/teleconference.
McDonnell said the National Weather Service had informed him that the storm's sustained winds had strengthened to 90 mph, and some of the lowest barometric pressure for a storm north of the Carolinas has been recorded.
In response, even more resources have been called up to aid Virginians during the storm and its aftermath.
"The forecast calls for a gradual south-to-north abatement of the storm over the course of the day tomorrow," McDonnell said. "We're still expecting the impact of the storm to be felt throughout the entire state in different ways."
Winds, rains and flooding are expected to peak very early Tuesday and into rush hour, he said.
Northern Virginia is expected to see wind gusts of 70 mph or more at the peak of the storm in the early morning hours Tuesday, while the Interstate 95 corridor in the Richmond area is only expected to get 1-3 inches of rain, although winds will likely gust up to 45-55 mph, he said.
There is still a risk of very heavy snow in southwestern and in western Virginia, with some counties under a blizzard warning, according to the governor. He said those areas could get 4-8 inches of snow in lower elevations, while it's possible higher elevations will see 1-2 feet.
Those higher-ground regions -- 2,000 feet and above -- could also get wind gusts of 50 mph.
As of Monday afternoon, there would likely be at least another 24 hours of storm impacts, McDonnell said. An astronomical high tide and very heavy seas wreaked havoc on the commonwealth's coast Monday morning, with significant flooding in the northern part of Virginia Beach.
"Some evacuations are taking place as we speak," McDonnell said.
On the positive side, McDonnell said, only 6,000 Dominion Power and 500 Appalachian Power customers were without power early afternoon Monday.
"We would be shocked if those numbers don't go up dramatically, especially in Northern Virginia as the storm approaches," he advised.
More than 600 National Guardsman had already been deployed, the governor said.
"I've authorized up to 750 to be called up," he added.
Many are in Hampton Roads but are being transferred to Northern Virginia, McDonnell said.
More than 1,0000 Virginia Department of Transportation workers and contractors are out working the storm, Commissioner Greg Whirley said during the conference.
"I do want to thank the public. You've limited your traveling on the highways, and I encourage you to continue to be vigilant and limit your travels," he said. "The worst is still to come."
Dominion Power has more than 5,600 personnel responding to the storm, Vice President-Electric Operations Rodney Blevins said during the teleconference. That is "including 2,600 personnel from other companies," he said.
Blevins added, "That includes over 800 bucket trucks, and we continue to seek additional assistance."
He advised residents to stay away from downed lines, and report any outages to the power company.
Appalachian Power's manager of external affairs, Ron Jefferson, said crews had come in from sister companies from states such as Texas, Oklahoma, Louisiana and Indiana.
"We will continue to focus our efforts into the high elevations and in areas where we do anticipate high outages," he said.
McDonnell said he planned to make an expedited request for emergency public assistance. That would go to pay for damage to public facilities and infrastructure and law-enforcement over-time.
"We understand from the call from the president that we're going to have fairly quick turnaround time on our request," McDonnell said.
The powerful storm has also affected the state's roadways, with HOV restrictions being lifted, he said. As of Monday afternoon, about 30 secondary roads had been closed state-wide, with many of those being in the Fredericksburg area and east of Interstate 95 and in Hampton Roads.
High winds led to the closure of part of Interstate 77 in the southwestern portion of the commonwealth, and the Midtown Tunnel in Hampton Roads was also shut down, McDonnell said.
He said there were also concerns about mountain passes in the southwest where drifts could be "many, many feet," so some equipment was being deployed to that region.
"Don't go out," McDonnell advised. "For most of the state, the worst part of the storm is still ahead with the wind and the rain and the flooding and the downed trees and the loss of power."
While no shelters had been opened in the Northern Shenandoah Valley as of Monday afternoon, 28 were open in 21 other localities across the state, according to the governor. State police advised there had been about 300 crashes, which wasn't higher than normal, he said.
As he has for the past several days, the governor urged people to use caution and common sense and to stay home as much as possible.
"Prepare now for power outages," he said. "They've been minimal. We expect vastly greater power outages over the next 24 hours. That means charge your cell phones now...Don't put generators inside your house. Use flashlights, not candles."
McDonnell had information for those looking to volunteer their support.
"I also want to make a plea for those Virginians who want to help their fellow Virginians in these times of need," he said.
The governor directed Good Samaritans to the Virginia Disaster Relief Fund, which can be found on the Virginia Department of Emergency Management's website, vaemergency.gov, and to the American Red Cross at redcross.org.
McDonnell said those who wished to go on the road should first check conditions by calling 511 or check 511virginia.org.
Contact staff writer Sally Voth at 540-465-5137 ext. 164, or firstname.lastname@example.org