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Hurricane Sandy was expected to start moving into the region Sunday night, but residents will feel the brunt of it today--and possibly longer in Northern Virginia.
In a briefing Sunday, Gov. Bob McDonnell said residents of Northern Virginia might feel the effects of the storm longer than those in other areas of the state, simply because areas in the state's north are closer to the storm's landfall in New Jersey.
The National Weather Service in Sterling said Sunday night that the Fredericksburg area could expect to see peak winds starting this morning and continuing through Tuesday morning. Rain was expected to pick up Sunday evening and last through Tuesday evening.
The track, McDonnell said, "puts the center of the storm closer to Northern Virginia a couple of days from now."
He said northern parts of the state will also feel the "wraparound effect of the backside of the storm" as it moves north, and could see storm conditions into Wednesday.
In advance of the storm, most school systems in the Fredericksburg area decided to close on Monday, including the University of Mary Washington.
A debate between the 1st Congressional District candidates, scheduled for Monday night at UMW, has also been canceled.
Federal offices are closed to the public on Monday. Virginia Railway Express will not operate any trains, and the Metro system will not run.
Along the Interstate 95 corridor, the storm is expected to bring up to 6 inches of rain and 30 mph winds, with gusts up to 55 mph.
State and local officials have spent days preparing--mobilizing police and National Guard, staffing emergency centers and readying storm shelters.
McDonnell warned Virginians that this storm will stay around longer than usual storms.
"Virtually all areas of the commonwealth will be affected over the next 24 hours. It's not going to abate in 24, 36 hours like a lot of storms have," McDonnell said.
McDonnell and VDOT commissioner Greg Whirley urged Virginians to stay off the roads for the duration of the storm, to avoid accidents from ponding water and falling trees.
"This is going to be a long haul," McDonnell said. "We are going to have power outages. There are going to be downed trees. Please use common sense."
Michael Cline, coordinator for the Virginia Department of Emergency Management, said state officials are as prepared as they can be, but "we really don't know what the impacts are going to be" of up to four days of rain and winds that come from two different directions.
McDonnell said he'd had a conference call with President Barack Obama and other governors and mayors of localities affected by the storm. FEMA officials are already in Virginia, he said, and he hopes to complete damage assessments to apply for federal aid, if needed, as soon as possible after the storm.
President Barack Obama urged people in states affected by the storm to take it seriously, and promised federal help.
"My message to the governors, as well as to the mayors, is anything they need, we will be there," Obama said in remarks at FEMA headquarters, according to a transcript. "And we're going to cut through red tape. We're not going to get bogged down with a lot of rules.
The hurricane comes just days before the election, and McDonnell said elections officials have put several contingency plans in place. For the time being, registrars' offices will be open during the storm, unless it becomes too dangerous, to allow in-person absentee voting.
Chelyen Davis: 540/368-5028