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Sandy cancels nearly 500 flights at O’Hare, Midway

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Updated: December 1, 2012 6:19AM

City of Chicago officials have closed part of the lakefront path and are prepared to close Lake Shore Drive if necessary, following a warning that waves as high as 25 feet could crash into the shore over the next two days, thanks to weather chaos caused by Hurricane Sandy.

The lakefront path closure began at 11 p.m. Monday from North Avenue to Ohio Streets and could be extended as far north as Fullerton depending on weather conditions, said Chicago Park District Superintendent Mike Kelly on Monday. When the path will re-open is also weather-dependent.

Because of severe weather tied to Hurricane Sandy, the National Weather Service issued a lakefront flood warning from 1 p.m. Tuesday until 4 p.m. Wednesday that will hurl northerly winds up to 60 mph at the city.

“We don’t want to close Lake Shore Drive, but we are prepared to at any time,” said Gary Schenkel, the city’s director of the Office of Emergency Management and Communications, at a Monday afternoon news conference. Schenkel said he’d discussed the situation with Mayor Rahm Emanuel Monday morning and does not anticipate closing Lake Shore Drive, even though some water might splash on the road.

If necessary, the Chicago Transit Authority is ready to re-route buses that use Lake Shore Drive, and outdoor concessions at Navy Pier, as well as the Ferris wheel, will be closed.

Curiosity-seekers wanting a glimpse of the lake should sit on the couch and turn on the TV, officials said.

“For at least the next 48 hours, stay off the lakefront,” Kelly said.

In anticipation of surging lake waters, catch basins that capture water along Lake Shore Drive have been cleared of debris, and sand berms are in place along all city beaches.

The high winds — and even the breaking waves — threaten to cause power outages.

ComEd has increased its staffing to prepare for the storm, and it is inspecting and monitoring underground electrical vaults near the lakeshore “to identify issues that could arise from flooding,” said ComEd Chief Operating Officer Terence Donnelly. The vaults hold equipment that helps supply power.

“If we have any power outages related to Hurricane Sandy, we will be ready to respond,” he said.

The 418 boats still in Chicago harbors will be in protected waters, but after Monday evening, boat owners will not be permitted access to their boats until Thursday for safety reasons.

City officials also encouraged people to secure possessions that might blow away. Of particular concern were those with high-rise balconies who own grills, lawn furniture and other objects that could fall on passersby below.

A strengthened Hurricane Sandy already had forced nearly 500 flight cancellations in Chicago, closed most financial markets and whipped up waves in Lake Michigan.

As of Monday evening, the Department of Aviation reported more than 500 flight cancellations at O’Hare Airport and another 100 at Midway.

At O’Hare, sisters Barbara Martin and Cindy Edwards and their friend Deborah Snyder said they just wanted to escape from their kids, husbands and the state of Texas for a few days. Their hometown of Gatesville, they said, isn’t known for much more than having five of the state’s eight prisons and jails for women.

Salem, Mass., sounded like fun.

“They were telling us it was like Mardi Gras at Halloween,” said Martin, 43. “It’s a bucket-list thing.”

But Monday morning, the adventuresome trio were stuck at O’Hare, after their flight to Boston was canceled due to the storm.

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