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Megastorm could wreak havoc across eastern US

High winds blow sea foam into the air as a person walks across Jeanette’s Pier in Nags Head, N.C., Sunday, Oct. 28, 2012 as wind and rain from Hurricane Sandy move into the area. Governors from North Carolina, where steady rains were whipped by gusting winds Saturday night, to Connecticut declared states of emergency. Delaware ordered mandatory evacuations for coastal communities by 8 p.m. Sunday. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome)

High winds blow sea foam into the air as a person walks across Jeanette’s Pier in Nags Head, N.C., Sunday, Oct. 28, 2012 as wind and rain from Hurricane Sandy move into the area. Governors from North Carolina, where steady rains were whipped by gusting winds Saturday night, to Connecticut declared states of emergency. Delaware ordered mandatory evacuations for coastal communities by 8 p.m. Sunday. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome)

Annemarie Jarman, and her dog “Bruges,” walk along the edge of the beach that is mostly empty as Hurricane Sandy bears down on the east coast, Saturday, Oct. 27, 2012, in Ocean City, Md. Hurricane Sandy, upgraded again Saturday just hours after forecasters said it had weakened to a tropical storm, was barreling north from the Caribbean and was expected to make landfall early Tuesday near the Delaware coast, then hit two winter weather systems as it moves inland, creating a hybrid monster storm. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

Mary Corrus, from Ocean City, Md., takes a picture of the rough surf as Hurricane Sandy bears down on the east coast, Sunday, Oct. 28, 2012, in Ocean City, Md. Governors from North Carolina, where steady rains were whipped by gusting winds Saturday night, to Connecticut declared states of emergency. Delaware ordered mandatory evacuations for coastal communities by 8 p.m. Sunday. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

Cody Billotte walks through the high water as he loads his car to go to work as Hurricane Sandy bears down on the east coast, Sunday, Oct. 28, 2012, in Ocean City, Md. Governors from North Carolina, where steady rains were whipped by gusting winds Saturday night, to Connecticut declared states of emergency. Delaware ordered mandatory evacuations for coastal communities by 8 p.m. Sunday. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

A news crew wades through sea foam blown onto Jeanette’s Pier in Nags Head, N.C., Sunday, Oct. 28, 2012 as wind and rain from Hurricane Sandy move into the area. Governors from North Carolina, where steady rains were whipped by gusting winds Saturday night, to Connecticut declared states of emergency. Delaware ordered mandatory evacuations for coastal communities by 8 p.m. Sunday. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome)

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SHIP BOTTOM, New Jersey (AP) — Tens of millions of people in the eastern third of the U.S. in the path of a massive freak storm had braced Sunday for the first raindrops that were expected later in the day, to be followed over the next few days by sheets of rain, high winds and even heavy snow.

The warning from officials to anyone who might be affected was simple: Be prepared and get out of the way.

Hurricane Sandy was headed north from the Caribbean, where it left nearly five dozen dead, to meet a winter storm and a cold front, plus high tides from a full moon, and experts said the rare hybrid storm that results will cause havoc over 800 miles (1,300 kilometers) from the East Coast to the Great Lakes.

The danger was hardly limited to coastal areas. Forecasters were far more worried about inland flooding from the storm surge than they were about winds. Rains could saturate the ground, causing trees to topple into power lines, utility officials said, warning residents to prepare for several days at home without power.

States of emergency were declared from North Carolina, where gusty winds whipped steady rain on Sunday morning, to Connecticut. Delaware ordered mandatory evacuations for coastal communities by 8 p.m. Sunday.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo ordered New York City’s transit service to suspend bus, subway and commuter rail service starting at 7 p.m. (2300 GMT) Sunday in advance of the storm. The city closed the subways before Hurricane Irene last year, and a Columbia University study predicted that an Irene surge just 1 foot (30 centimeters) higher would have paralyzed lower Manhattan.

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg said the 1.1-million-student New York City school system will be closed Monday. He also ordered the evacuation of part of lower Manhattan and the Rockaways, a low-lying coastal area in the borough of Queens.

Sandy was at Category 1 strength, packing 75 mph (120 kph) winds, about 250 miles (400 kilometers) southeast of Cape Hatteras, North Carolina, and moving northeast at 14 mph (22.5 kph) as of 11 a.m. (1500 GMT) Sunday, according to the National Hurricane Center in Miami. It was about 575 miles (925 kilometers) south of New York City.

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.

The storm was so big, however, and the convergence of the three storms so rare, that “we just can’t pinpoint who is going to get the worst of it,” said Rick Knabb, director of the National Hurricane Center in Miami.

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who was criticized for not interrupting a vacation in Florida while a snowstorm pummeled the state in 2010, broke off campaigning for Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney in North Carolina on Friday to return home.

“I can be as cynical as anyone,” said Christie, who declared a state of emergency Saturday. “But when the storm comes, if it’s as bad as they’re predicting, you’re going to wish you weren’t as cynical as you otherwise might have been.”

Up and down the Eastern Seaboard and far inland, officials urged residents and businesses to prepare in ways big and small.

Amtrak began canceling passenger train service Saturday night to parts of the East Coast, including between Washington and New York. Airlines started moving planes out of airports to avoid damage and adding Sunday flights out of New York and Washington in preparation for flight cancellations on Monday.

The Virginia National Guard was authorized to call up to 500 troops to active duty for debris removal and road-clearing, while homeowners stacked sandbags at their front doors in coastal towns.

President Barack 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.

In North Carolina’s Outer Banks, there was some scattered, minor flooding at daybreak Sunday on the beach road in Nags Head. The bad weather could pick up there later in the day, with the major concerns being rising tides and pounding waves.

In New Jersey, hundreds of coastal residents started moving inland. Christie’s emergency declaration will force the shutdown of Atlantic City’s 12 casinos for only the fourth time in the 34-year history of legalized gambling there. City officials said they would begin evacuating the gambling hub’s 30,000 residents at noon Sunday, busing them to mainland shelters and schools.

“I’ve been here since 1997, and I never even put my barbecue grill away during a storm,” Russ Linke said shortly before he and his wife left the Jersey shore barrier island town of Ship Bottom on Saturday. “But I am taking this one seriously. They say it might hit here. That’s about as serious as it can get.”

He and his wife secured the patio furniture, packed the bicycles into the pickup truck, and headed off the island.

The storm also forced the presidential campaign to juggle schedules. Romney scrapped plans to campaign Sunday in Virginia and switched his schedule for the day to Ohio. First lady Michelle Obama canceled an appearance in New Hampshire for Tuesday, and Obama moved a planned Monday departure for Florida to Sunday night to beat the storm. He also canceled appearances in Northern Virginia on Monday and Colorado on Tuesday.

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Breed reported from Raleigh, North Carolina. Contributing to this report were AP Science Writer Seth Borenstein in Washington; Emery Dalesio in Nags Head, North Carolina.; Karen Matthews and Samantha Bomkamp in New York; Randall Chase in Lewes, Delaware.; Jessica Gresko in Arlington, Virginia; and Nancy Benac in Washington.

Associated Press


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