NEW YORK (AP) - From Washington to Boston, big cities and small towns Sunday buttoned up against the onslaught of a superstorm that could endanger 50 million people in the most heavily populated corridor in the nation, with forecasters warning that the New York area could get the worst of it -- an 11-foot wall of water.
The time for preparing and talking is about over," Federal Emergency Management Administrator Craig Fugate said as Hurricane Sandy made its way up the Atlantic on a collision course with two other weather systems that could turn it into one of the most fearsome storms on record in the U.S. "People need to be acting now."
Forecasters said the hurricane could blow ashore Monday night or early Tuesday along the New Jersey coast, then cut across into Pennsylvania and travel up through New York State on Wednesday
Airlines canceled more than 5,000 flights and Amtrak began suspending train service across the Northeast. New York, Philadelphia, Washington and Baltimore moved to shut down their subways, buses and trains and said schools would be closed on Monday. Boston also called off school. And all non-essential government offices closed in the nation's capital.
As rain from the leading edges of the monster hurricane began to fall over the Northeast, hundreds of thousands of people from Maryland to Connecticut were ordered to evacuate low-lying coastal areas, including 375,000 in lower Manhattan and other parts of New York City, 50,000 in Delaware and 30,000 in Atlantic City, N.J., where the city's 12 casinos were forced to shut down for only the fourth time ever.
"We were told to get the heck out. I was going to stay, but it's better to be safe than sorry," said Hugh Phillips, who was one of the first in line when a Red Cross shelter in Lewes, Del., opened at noon.
"I think this one's going to do us in," said Mark Palazzolo, who boarded up his bait-and-tackle shop in Point Pleasant Beach, N.J., with the same wood he used in past storms, crossing out the names of Hurricanes Isaac and Irene and spray-painting "Sandy" next to them. "I got a call from a friend of mine from Florida last night who said, `Mark, get out! If it's not the storm, it'll be the aftermath. People are going to be fighting in the streets over gasoline and food."'
Authorities warned that the nation's biggest city could get hit with a surge of seawater that could swamp parts of lower Manhattan, flood subway tunnels and cripple the network of electrical and communications lines that are vital to the nation's financial center.
Sandy, a Category 1 hurricane with sustained winds of 75 mph as of Sunday evening, was blamed for 65 deaths in the Caribbean before it began traveling northward, parallel to the Eastern Seaboard. As of 8 p.m., it was centered about 485 miles southeast of New York City, moving at 15 mph, with hurricane-force winds extending an incredible 175 miles from its center.
It was expected to hook inland during the day Monday, colliding with a wintry storm moving in from the west and cold air streaming down from the Arctic.
Forecasters said the combination could bring close to a foot of rain in places, a potentially lethal storm surge of 4 to 11 feet across much of the region, and punishing winds that could cause widespread power outages that last for days. The storm could also dump up to 2 feet of snow in Kentucky, North Carolina and West Virginia.
Louis Uccellini, environmental prediction chief for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, told The Associated Press that given Sandy's east-to-west track into New Jersey, the worst of the storm surge could be just to the north, in New York City, on Long Island and in northern New Jersey.
Forecasters said that because of giant waves and high tides made worse by a full moon, the metropolitan area of about 20 million people could get hit with an 11-foot wall of water.
"This is the worst-case scenario," Uccellini said.
New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg warned: "If you don't evacuate, you are not only endangering your life, you are also endangering the lives of the first responders who are going in to rescue you. This is a serious and dangerous storm."
New Jersey's famously blunt Gov. Chris Christie was less polite: "Don't be stupid. Get out."
New York called off school Monday for the city's 1.1 million students and announced it would suspend all train, bus and subway service Sunday night. More than 5 million riders a day depend on the transit system. The New York Stock Exchange announced it will shut down its trading floor Monday but continue to trade electronically.
Officials also postponed Monday's reopening of the Statue of Liberty, which had been closed for a year for $30 million in renovations.
In Washington, President Barack Obama promised the government would "respond big and respond fast" after the storm hits.
"My message to the governors as well as to the mayors is anything they need, we will be there, and we will cut through red tape. We are not going to get bogged down with a lot of rules," he said.
He also pleaded for neighborliness: "In times like this, one of the things that Americans do is we pull together and we help out one another And so, there may be elderly populations in your area. Check on your neighbor, check on your friend. Make sure that they are prepared. If we do, then we're going to get through this storm just fine."
The storm forced the president and Mitt Romney to rearrange their campaign schedules in the crucial closing days of the presidential race. And early voting on Monday in Maryland was canceled.
Despite the dire warnings, some souls were refusing to budge.
Jonas Clark of Manchester Township, N.J. -- right in the area where Sandy was projected to come ashore -- stood outside a convenience store, calmly sipping a coffee and wondering why people were working themselves "into a tizzy."
"I've seen a lot of major storms in my time, and there's nothing you can do but take reasonable precautions and ride out things the best you can," said Clark, 73. "Nature's going to what it's going to do. It's great that there's so much information out there about what you can do to protect yourself and your home, but it all boils down basically to `use your common sense."'
In New Jersey, Denise Faulkner and her boyfriend showed up at the Atlantic City Convention Center with her 7-month-old daughter and two sons, ages 3 and 12, thinking there was a shelter there. She was dismayed to learn that it was just a gathering point for buses to somewhere else. Last year, they were out of their home for two days because of Hurricane Irene.
"I'm real overwhelmed," she said as baby Zahiriah, wrapped in a pink blanket with embroidered elephants, slept in a car seat. "We're at it again. Last year we had to do it. This year we have to do it. And you have to be around all sorts of people -- strangers. It's a bit much."
Before leaving their home in Atlantic City, John and Robshima Williams of packed their kids' Halloween costumes so they could go bunk-to-bunk trick-or-treating at a shelter. Her 8-year-old twins are going as the Grim Reaper and a zombie, while her 6-year-old plans to dress as a witch.
"We're just trying to make a bad situation good," the mother said. "We're going to make it fun no matter where we are."
NYSE to trade electronically Monday, shut floor
NEW YORK (AP) - The New York Stock Exchange will close its trading floor Monday at Hurricane Sandy barrels its way up the Northeast, but trading will continue electronically.
The NYSE says it will invoke its contingency plans beginning Monday. The New York Mercantile Exchange also will be shutting its trading floor which is located in a mandatory evacuation zone.
Trading has rarely stopped for weather. The NYSE shut down on March 27, 1985 for Hurricane Gloria.
Hurricane Sandy was headed north from the Caribbean, on course to meet a snowstorm and a cold front. Experts said the rare hybrid storm could cause havoc over 800 miles stretching from the East Coast to the Great Lakes.
Superstorm cuts short Statue of Liberty reopening
NEW YORK (AP) - The Statue of Liberty has officially reopened to the public after a renovation project. The public will just have wait until a massive storm has passed to see it.
Interior Secretary Ken Salazar and a group of U.S. Military Academy cadets were the first to visit on Sunday. The statue had been closed for a year to undergo a $30 million interior renovation project. Visitors had been restricted to the grounds on Liberty Island during that time.
The renovation included replacing the stairs to the crown, as well as creating wheelchair access to one of the observation decks at the top of the pedestal.
But the monument will be closed Monday and Tuesday because of the superstorm. It is expected to reopen Wednesday.
Amtrak cancels northeast service ahead of Sandy
WILMINGTON, Del. (AP) - Amtrak says it is canceling service across the northeastern U.S. on Monday as Hurricane Sandy threatens to create a wet, windy mess in the region.
Amtrak said in a news release Sunday that it was canceling all service north of New York at 7 p.m. Nearly all service across the Eastern Seaboard will be canceled starting Monday.
Amtrak says it has not yet determined when train services will resume. Alternate transportation is not available.
Some trains will continue to run in Florida and the Carolinas.
The news release says customers can receive a refund or voucher for future travel.
Hurricane Sandy grounds thousands of flights
NEW YORK (AP) - Airlines canceled more than 3,000 flights as a result of Hurricane Sandy as of Sunday morning, with hubs along the East Coast bearing the brunt of the disruptions.
According to the flight-tracking service FlightAware, 707 flights have been canceled Sunday, with more than 265 cancellations at Newark Airport.
For Monday, 2,499 flights are canceled, with 774 cancellations at Newark, followed by 428 at Dulles in Washington and 355 cancellations at Philadelphia.
Hurricane Sandy is heading north from the Caribbean, where it has left nearly five dozen dead, to meet a winter storm and a cold front, plus high tides from a full moon, and experts say the rare hybrid storm that results will cause havoc over 800 miles from the East Coast to the Great Lakes.
Evacuations, cancellations mount as megastorm nears Northeast
UNDATED (AP) - The head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency says "the time for preparing and talking is about over."
Craig Fugate says it's now time to act, before Hurricane Sandy moves ashore and collides with two other weather systems, potentially threatening some 50 million people.
Tens of thousands are being told to evacuate coastal areas of Delaware, New Jersey, Connecticut and other vulnerable spots along the East Coast.
New York City is shutting down its subways, buses and trains tonight, and closing its schools tomorrow. Mayor Michael Bloomberg has also ordered the evacuation of low-lying neighborhoods in the city, including lower Manhattan.
Airlines are canceling thousands of flights and Amtrak is scaling back train service in the Northeast Corridor.
Forecasters expect Sandy to come ashore late tomorrow or early Tuesday, most likely in New Jersey, bringing high winds and coastal flooding. Then it's expected to meet up with a storm moving in from the west and cold air streaming down from the Arctic.
Forecasters say the resulting megastorm could blow down trees and power lines and dump heavy rain or snow over 800 miles, from the East Coast to the Great Lakes. Parts of West Virginia, Virginia, Kentucky and North Carolina could get up to 2 feet of snow.
Hurricane's death toll rises to 65 in Caribbean
PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (AP) - As Americans brace for Hurricane Sandy, the Caribbean is still suffering.
Officials say storm-related death toll has risen to 65 as of early Sunday. Haitian authorities have reported 51 of those deaths. Continued rains have added to the initial jolt of the hurricane.
The country is especially vulnerable due to its ramshackle housing and flood-prone hillsides, as well as the fact 370,000 people are still living in emergency shelters after a catastrophic 2010 earthquake.
Deaths also have been reported in Cuba, Jamaica, Puerto Rico and the Bahamas.
US superstorm threatens millions
SHIP BOTTOM, N.J. (AP) - Forecasters say the scope of the coming East Coast superstorm makes it pretty much irrelevant where it hits land because the effects will be felt in a third of the country and by up to 60 million people.
Millions along the coast are being told to get out of the way and the confluence of Hurricane Sandy and two winter systems is expected to bring sheets of rain, high winds and heavy snow.
Several states have already declared emergencies and President Barack Obama plans to skip campaigning tomorrow and Tuesday to monitor the situation from the White House.
Federal, state and local emergency preparedness operations are swinging into action.
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo told the Metropolitan Transportation Authority to prepare to shut the New York City subways, buses and suburban trains.
Atlantic City officials say an evacuation begins at noon.
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