By Steven Fletcher
Gloucester Daily Times
---- — A transformer fire on Granite Street, trees across Bray Street in West Gloucester and Hesperus Avenue in Magnolia, and a tree that crashed onto the roof of a house on Washington Street just north of Grant Circle are just a few of the emergencies drawing police, fire and public works crews attention as Hurricane Sandy, still approaching the coast of New Jersey, continues to spew high wind guts and rain across Cape Ann.
The call about the tree onto the house, reported from a neighboring home on Veterans Way, came at around 12:45 p.m., and was among the first damaging effects of the storm. But there are now widespread damage reports, with trees down on wires, trees and wires down across local streets, and a report that a utility pole crashed onto a car on the city’s Back Shore as well.
Gloucester police reopened parts of Atlantic Road to single-lane traffic with the passing of high tide at midday, but the stepped-up winds and rain from Hurricane Sandy are expected to increase later today and tonight, with the storm itself making landfall around Atlantic City, N.J., this evening.
Gloucester’s police chief is also urging residents to stay off the shoreline. Chief Leonard Campanello said police have also cordoned off Magnolia Pier.
“We are urging residents to stay out of harms way on the coast,” said Campanello.
In Essex, town officials shut down the Main Street Causeway due to midday flooding at high tide. Cape Ann is designated as being on alert for “moderate” coastal flooding as the storm picks up and high tides return throughout the area around midnight tonight.
The storm is delivering wind gusts of more han 60 miles per hour, with more wind gusts expected throughout the night.
The Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority suspended all service, including commuter rail service to and from Cape Ann, at 2 p.m. The MBTA has not yet announced a target time – likely tomorrow — for the resumption of service. Amtrak has shut down all of its service, including the Acela trains, along the Northeast Corridor until further notice as well.
The National Hurricane Center expects the center of Hurricane Sandy, packing winds of 85 miles per hour as of midday and still reaching some 900 miles across, to hit New Jersey, and NOAA’s National Weather Service is projecting the storm to then go inland, along a path up through Pennsylvania and New York State before swinging north and east into northern Vermont. But the breadth of the storm is expected to deliver high winds and rain to Cape Ann right through tomorrow.
Cape Ann started bracing for the storm this weekend.
All public schools —Gloucester, Rockport and Manchester Essex Regional — are closed, while Endicott College has also closed today. Officials have not yet made any announcement about the status of schools tomorrow.
The city also opened its its Emergency Operations Center in Fuller School at 6 a.m. today.
Gloucester has not opened an emergency shelter, but the Red Cross has opened a regional shelter at the Newbury Middle School on 63 Hanover St., in Newbury.
Eastern Essex County, including Gloucester, Salem, Newburyport, Peabody, Saugus and Beverly, is under a Coastal Flood Warning and a High Wind Warning. The coastal flood warning is in effect until 1 p.m on Tuesday. The high wind warning remains in effect until 6 a.m Tuesday.
The National Weather Service also expects between a quarter and half inch of rain today, with more to follow overnght and into tomorrow.
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Steven Fletcher may be contacted at 1-978-283-7000 x3455, or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @stevengdt.