Hurricane Sandy, pictured at 00:15 UTC, churns off the east coast on October 28, 2012 in the Atlantic Ocean. Sandy which has already claimed over 50 lives in the Caribbean is predicted to bring heavy winds and floodwaters to the mid-atlantic region. (Photo by NASA via Getty Images)
A NOAA satellite image taken on Oct. 29 shows Hurricane Sandy moving north. The hurricane is predicted to make landfall around midnight on Tuesday. NOAA
Carolyn Pesce, Doyle Rice and Yamiche Alcindor, USA Today
7:29AM EDT October 29. 2012 - Hurricane Sandy bore down on the Eastern Seaboard's largest cities Monday, forcing the shutdown of mass transit, schools and financial markets, sending coastal residents fleeing, and threatening a dangerous mix of high winds, soaking rain and a surging wall of water up to 11 feet tall.
The massive storm's impact on some 50 million residents was fueling both apprehension and urgency.
Sandy strengthened before dawn and stayed on a predicted path toward Washington, Baltimore, Philadelphia and New York - putting it on a collision course with two other weather systems that would create a superstorm with the potential for havoc over 800 miles from the East Coast to the Great Lakes. About 2 to 3 feet of snow were even forecast for mountainous parts of West Virginia.
The center of the storm was positioned to come ashore Monday night in New Jersey, meaning the worst of the surge could be in the northern part of that state and in New York City and on Long Island. Higher tides brought by a full moon compounded the threat to the metropolitan area of about 20 million people.
"This is the worst-case scenario," said Louis Uccellini, environmental prediction chief for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
Early Monday the Coast Guard was responding to a distressed vessel with 17 people aboard approximately 90 miles southeast of Hatteras N.C., Monday.
Responsible for at least 66 deaths in Cuba, Haiti and the Bahamas, Sandy - with a 520-mile diameter - is one of the largest ever potential storms to hit the U.S. according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The storm was churning north Monday morning at 14 mph, still about 280 miles east of North Carolina's coast at 2 a.m. ET.
It began its turn towards the north after midnight, driving towards coastal areas after battering popular tourist spots with heavy winds and rains. The storm is expected to bring 50 to 75 mph winds, up to 10 inches of rain and potential snowfall of up to two feet over 14 states beginning late Monday afternoon or early evening, when its expected to hit land somewhere between Delaware and New York's Long Island.
Craig Fugate, administrator for the federal Emergency Management Agency, said Monday the agency has stationed teams from North Carolina to Maine and in states as far inland as West Virginia.
"We've been moving generators, basic supplies, we would need after the storm," he said.
Fugate said he was worried about people evacuating ahead of storm surges.
First there will be the coastal impact, then the wind knocking out power and then heavy rain and flash flooding, he said, adding "we don't want people to thin it's not that bad when it comes ashore."
Storm surges of up to 11 feet prompted mandatory weekend evacuations in low-lying parts of New York, New Jersey, Maryland and Delaware. High-wind watches and flood warnings are in effect for all the Mid-Atlantic states and southern New England, where Sandy was expected to barrel through Wednesday.
Airlines at five major East Coast airports canceled more than 7,000 flights, schools across the region canceled classes and mass transit systems shut down, with scuttled train, bus and light-rail service adding to a potential commuter nightmare.
Two cold fronts to the west and north were on a collision course with Sandy, threatening to turn the massive storm system into a nor'easter, ushering in freezing temperatures in some regions and blanketing areas of West Virginia and other states with knee-deep snow.
President Obama, following a meeting with Federal Emergency Management Agency officials, approved New York state's request for federal emergency status, freeing up federal resources for disaster relief. The state is in the cross-hairs of Sandy's path.
New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg ordered evacuations for an estimated 375,000 people in some low lying areas starting Sunday at 7 p.m. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo ordered the city's transit service to suspend bus, subway and commuter rail service. The city's mass transit system is the nation's largest - the subway alone has a daily ridership of more than 5 million.
Obama warned residents of the region to the storm "very seriously." The visit to FEMA included a conference call with governors and mayors of vulnerable states and cities. "Anything they need, we will be there," Obama said. "And we're going to cut through red tape."
Governors from North Carolina to Connecticut declared states of emergency.
- In Virginia, where several colleges and school districts canceled classes through Tuesday, Gov. Bob McDonnell authorized up to 750 National Guard members to assist with the storm. In Delaware, Gov. Jack Markell ordered mandatory evacuations for an estimated 50,000 residents of coastal communities. Collin O'Mara, secretary of the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control, said Sandy could unleash record waves and tidal flooding along the coast."The potential on this is greater than the defenses that we have in most places," O'Mara said.
- New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie declared a state of emergency and ordered Atlantic City casinos evacuated - just the fourth time the city's 12 casinos had been shut since legalized gambling began 34 years ago. Christie warned state residents to be prepared for several days without electricity.
- The National Weather Service said snow should start falling Sunday night in West Virginia's higher elevations and continue through Wednesday morning. Accumulations could reach 2 feet.
- Connecticut Gov. Dannel Malloy warned that storm surges could be the worst the state has seen in almost 75 years and urged residents along the shorelines of several cities and towns to heed evacuation orders.
Most airlines planned to cancel all flights into and out of the three major New York City area airports Sunday night and not resume service until Tuesday. Most carriers were also suspending all flights into and out of Philadelphia as well as Washington D.C's Reagan National and Dulles International airports Sunday evening. Amtrak was canceling train service to parts of the East Coast, including between Washington, D.C., and New York.
The storm's landfall along the Mid-Atlantic coast "would likely be a billion-dollar disaster," Weather Underground meteorologist Jeff Masters said. 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.
With just a few days left in what's shaped up as a tight election, Sandy was forcing Obama and Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney to adjust campaign plans. In battleground states where the hurricane is likely to collide with a cold front to form a freak hybrid storm, Sandy "will throw havoc into the race, said Virginia Sen. Mark Warner.
Obama canceled campaign stops Monday in Virginia and Tuesday in Colorado to monitor the storm but planned to go forward with other events
Monday in Florida and Ohio. Romney canceled three scheduled Sunday stops in Virginia on Sunday, opting instead to campaign in Ohio before heading Monday to Wisconsin. Vexing both candidates: bad weather that could hinder early voting efforts throughout the East Coast. "Obviously, we want unfettered access to the polls, because
we think the more people that come out, the better we're going to do," said Obama adviser David Axelrod. "To the extent that it makes it harder, that's a source of concern."
LIVE TRACKER: See where Sandy is now, where it's headed
Meanwhile, the American Red Cross was 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.
FEMA had incident-management teams in 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.
The New York Stock Exchange said floor trading would be suspended Monday. Trading has rarely stopped for weather. A blizzard led to a latestart and an early close on Jan. 8, 1996, according to the exchange's parent company, NYSE Euronext. The NYSE shut down March 27, 1985 for Hurricane Gloria. Since the Great Depression, the longest suspension in trading at the NYSE occurred after the attacks on the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2011, when the exchange closed for four days.
Storm surge remains one of the biggest threats from the storm: Data from CoreLogic show that more than 261,000 homes are at risk.
"This will be a long-lasting event, with two to three days of impact," says James Franklin, branch chief of the National Hurricane Center. "Wind damage, widespread power outages, inland flooding and storm surge are all likely."