Yamiche Alcindor and Doyle Rice, USA TODAY
Hurricane Sandy continued its angry advance toward the East Coast on Sunday, loaded with high winds and driving rain that threaten havoc for some of the nation's most densely populated areas.
The storm, centered some 260 miles off the coast of North Carolina, remained a Category 1 hurricane with a wind speed of 75 mph. according to the National Hurricane Center.
The storm was forecast to make landfall, probably somewhere along the New Jersey coast, late Monday or early Tuesday. But the massive storm is forecast to hammer much of the eastern U.S., and more than 50 million people in the storm's path were preparing for its rage.
AccuWeather is reporting that Hurricane Sandy remains on track to become a historical storm, with places from Norfolk, Va., to Washington, D.C., to Boston bracing for catastrophic impacts. The worst is forecast to be Monday through Tuesday.
President Obama was monitoring the storm and working with state and locals governments to make sure they get the resources needed to prepare, administration officials said.
Governors from North Carolina, where heavy rain was expected Sunday, to Connecticut declared states of emergency. Delaware ordered mandatory evacuations for coastal communities by 8 p.m. Sunday.
On Saturday evening, Amtrak began canceling train service to parts of the East Coast, including between Washington, D.C., and New York. Airlines started moving planes out of East Coast airports to avoid damage and adding flights out of New York and Washington on Sunday in preparation for flight cancellations on Monday.
Officials issued a mandatory evacuation for New York's Fire Island. About 200 permanent residents of the summer haven have until 2 p.m. Sunday to leave the island that officials say is prone to flooding. "It's a thin strip of land and it borders two sides of water," says Inez Birbiglia, spokeswoman person for the Town of Islip, which has partial jurisdiction over the area. "They need to evacuate so that resources during the emergency can be allocated to other needy places on the mainland."
Sandy took a short breather early today and weakened into a tropical storm, but only for a couple of hours before it roared back to hurricane status.
It is expected to push heavy rains into most of the region by Monday. The storm's center is likely to make landfall somewhere along the New Jersey or Delaware coast late Monday or early Tuesday, according to computer forecasting models.
In Rehoboth Beach, Del., city workers are on the beach, removing benches, trash cans and anything else that could become a dangerous missile.
The storm's winds, rains and potential snow could cause widespread havoc. Weather forecasters predict up to 10 inches of rain in some regions, snowstorms in others and widespread wind damage that could down power lines.
The storm was expected to continue moving parallel to the Southeast coast most of the day and approach the coast of the mid-Atlantic states by Monday night, before reaching southern New England later in the week. High-wind watches and warnings are in effect for all the Mid-Atlantic states and southern New England.
If Sandy hits near New York City, as one weather model predicts, the storm surge will be capable of overtopping the flood walls in Manhattan, which are only 5 feet above mean sea level, according to Weather Underground meteorologist Jeff Masters.
Storm surge is the massive mound of water that builds up and is pushed ashore as a hurricane moves over the ocean. Sandy's storm surge may be higher than Hurricane Irene's, Masters said, and has the potential to flood New York City's subway system.
The storm's landfall along the Mid-Atlantic coast "would likely be a billion-dollar disaster," Masters says. He also noted that the full moon will occur Monday, which means astronomical tides will be at their peak for the month, increasing potential storm surge flooding.
The American Red Cross is readying shelters, volunteers and supplies to help coastal areas from Virginia to New England. "We want to make sure we're ready to spring into action as soon as we're needed," spokeswoman Anne Marie Borrego says.
The Red Cross has been shipping blood to hospitals in the affected region.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency has sent incident management teams to Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island and Vermont to help local emergency managers prepare for the storm and its aftermath. The agency also sent liaison officers to emergency operations centers in Maryland, Virginia, Washington, D.C., Pennsylvania, New York and New Jersey. The Defense Department has sent officers to deploy with the FEMA teams to coordinate possible search-and-rescue missions.
"This is a big storm with potential impacts beyond coastal areas. Know your risks, have a plan and be prepared," FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate says. "Now is the time to update your family communication plans, check your supplies, and stay informed."
FEMA has stockpiled supplies, including generators, blankets, water and food, throughout the Eastern Seaboard and at military bases in the region, including Fort Dix in New Jersey.
National Guard soldiers have been mobilized in several states, including North Carolina, Virginia, and Connecticut.
In North Carolina, 75 members of the National Guard have been positioned around the state to provide emergency relief if needed, says Julia Jarema, a spokeswoman for North Carolina Emergency Management.
Soldiers in Raleigh, Tarboro, and Washington, N.C., may be called to hand out supplies, perform rescue missions or help with general operations.
National Guard soldiers and state troopers are taking pre-storm positions in Virginia. Contractors, including those who remove debris, have also been readied.