GREENPORT - Coastal Long Island bore the brunt of the effects of Hurricane Sandy even before the superstorm made landfall, swamping cars, downing trees, and flooding entire neighborhoods.
Dangerous storm surges of up to 10 feet and hurricane-force winds were forecast for Long Island, and meteorologists warned of devastating flooding. More than 140,000 homes were without power by mid-afternoon as the winds picked up, knocking down trees and power lines. Fourteen people were rescued from deserted Fire Island, and a police vehicle was lost in the rescue effort, said Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone.
"If the high tide and the winds meet all at the same time, it's really producing what we've been talking about, this incredibly dangerous storm," Bellone said.
Cars were floating along the streets of Long Beach in Nassau County, which was under a mandatory evacuation order. Flooding had consumed several blocks south of the bay, said Long Beach resident Jay Bochner.
"We had flooding in the morning. There were some cars floating around," he said. "I'm afraid it's going to be even higher."
Gov. Andrew Cuomo said most of the National Guard troops deployed to the area would be stationed on Long Island. He expected Sandy to hit around 6 p.m., two hours earlier than expected.
"Long Island has become more and more vulnerable and the primary area of our concentration."
On the eastern edge of the North Fork, the seaside town of Greenport, N.Y., was already deluged with seawater before noon, with one street almost completely underwater. Most of the stores were deserted and boarded up with plywood. The water was nearly up to the windows of one dockside restaurant. Fishing vessels rocked violently against their pilings, which were rapidly being submerged by waves.
Sean Seal, 35, was still shoveling dirt and sandbags onto the alleyway behind his collectibles store, where the water was steadily creeping up toward his front door. He had already piled all of the merchandise onto tables about a foot above the floor, but he worried that he might lose everything in the storm. He only opened the shop about two months ago.
"It's a force of nature," he said, gazing out at the rising water. "There's nothing else we can really do about it. You know, get prepared and sit back and see what happens."
Long Island officials said they were bracing for the worst, but were prepared.
Anoush Vargas drove with her husband, Michael, from their home in Massapequa to the sand at Jones Beach on Monday morning only to discover it was covered by water.
"We have no more beach. It's gone," she said as she shook her head and watched the waves go under the boardwalk.
As they spoke, the blare of an alarm from a police vehicle urged them to return to their car and get moving. New York State Park Police Officer Tray Caupain was chasing away spectators, including surfers who were trying to catch big waves. He said it was most important to prevent people from getting trapped at the beach when the roads fully flood.
"They want to go out on the sand," Caupain said. "But everything's flooded out."
There was no way in or out of the hamlet of Bayville near Oyster Bay, where all roads were already flooded by early afternoon as huge waves from the Long Island Sound crashed over a seawall. Shopping at a local IGA supermarket, resident Judy Sniffen said she was worried about the coming storm.
"I'm taking it very seriously," said Sniffen, who has lived in Bayville for more than 50 years. "I think the Sound looks more furious than other ones than I've seen. I've been here for a long time."
Associated Press Writer Colleen Long in New York City contributed to this report.