TRENTON, NJ (CBS/AP) – New Jersey Governor Chris Christie has declared a State of Emergency in advance of Hurricane Sandy.

The declaration was announced around 11 a.m. Saturday, just before the governor held a news conference to discuss how the state was preparing for the storm. Christie had been campaigning in North Carolina before returning to New Jersey late Friday.

The state’s office of emergency management has been activated and voluntary evacuations have started from Sandy Hook to Cape May’s barrier islands. Mandatory evacuations there and at Atlantic City’s casinos and casino hotels were due to start Sunday afternoon. Residents and visitors on Atlantic County’s barrier islands are asked to evacuate by 4 p.m. on Sunday, October 28. Roadways will be closed after 4 p.m.

Atlantic County Executive Dennis Levinson has confirmed that the county will initially provide five shelters for evacuees, three of which will be pet-friendly. Crews are currently working to move resources into place. Locations of those facilities will be provided later today and will likely be opening early tomorrow. However, the shelters provide only basic provisions to provide protection for those who are unable to find other accommodations. If possible seek out friends and family members with whom you can stay to ride out the storm.

People should also take this time to gas up their cars, gather supplies, including prescription medicines, have cash on hand, review evacuation routes and check on the elderly and those with special needs.

“As we move towards what is an increasingly likelihood of seeing Sandy make landfall in New Jersey, I am urging all New Jerseyans to take every possible and reasonable precaution to ready themselves for the storm’s potential impact. That means having an emergency action plan for their families and other loved ones who may require assistance, and avoiding unnecessary risks in the severe weather, including staying off of the roads,” said Governor Christie. “At the state level, we are taking immediate steps to prepare for the storm’s impact and ensure that state, local and county governments have the tools they need to manage and respond in a coordinated way. With this, government at every level can respond more effectively to conditions on the ground, activate emergency operations plans, and ensure that resources are being marshaled to assist and protect the public through this storm.”

Additionally, all state parks will be closed by noon Sunday. The New Jersey National Guard is preparing to act if needed.

NJ TRANSIT operations, customer service and police personnel across the state are preparing the system to minimize service suspensions and delays to the extent possible.

Depending on the forecast track and the expected impact of the storm, it may be necessary for NJ TRANSIT to modify service as conditions change. Customers are advised to monitor broadcast news reports, monitor, or monitor NJ TRANSIT’s twitter feed at @NJ_TRANSIT for the latest service information.

To give customers additional travel options during expected severe weather conditions, NJ TRANSIT will offer full system-wide cross-honoring starting at 12:01 a.m. on Monday, October 29 and continuing through 6 a.m. Wednesday, October 31, enabling NJ TRANSIT customers to use their ticket or pass on an alternate travel mode—rail, bus or light rail. For example, customers who normally take the bus from Rutherford to the Port Authority Bus Terminal may use their bus pass on the train from Rutherford to New York Penn Station. Similarly, customers who normally take the bus between Atlantic City and Lindenwold may use the train instead.

Further, indoor waiting rooms at outlying rail stations that are controlled by NJ TRANSIT will remain open to provide customers with shelter during the storm.

Customers are reminded that while every effort will be made to continue operating rail, bus, light rail and Access Link services throughout the state, customers may experience delays, detours or cancellations on their routes due to the potential impact of the storm. Customers are advised to plan accordingly and anticipate potential disruptions to service.

Upon declaring a state of emergency, Governor Chris Christie reminded merchants that price gouging during a state of emergency is illegal, will be investigated by the Attorney General and Division of Consumer Affairs and will result in significant penalties.

“During emergencies, New Jerseyans should look out for each other – not seek to take advantage of each other,” said Governor Christie. “The State Division of Consumer Affairs will look closely at any and all complaints about alleged price gouging. Anyone found to have violated the law will face significant penalties.”

New Jersey’s price gouging statute, N.J.S.A. 56:8-107, et. seq., makes it illegal to set excessive price increases during a declared state of emergency or for 30 days after the termination of the state of emergency.

Hurricane Sandy is expected to make landfall in the area on Monday night into Tuesday.

(TM and © Copyright 2012 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2011 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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