Hurricane Sandy pressed westward from the Atlantic Ocean into the U.S. eastern seaboard Monday, bringing wicked weather conditions that prompted closures of government offices, schools, Broadway theaters and businesses in a swath from North Carolina to Connecticut.
Evacuations were ordered for low-lying areas near the coastline affecting hundreds of thousands of people early Monday afternoon (early Monday evening GMT). More than 8,000 flights were cancelled, subways and buses halted in major U.S. cities and the federal government shut down in Washington, D.C.
States of emergency were declared in the US capital and multiple other states in the category 1 storm's path. Officials warned of a possible record storm surge, flooding and winds strong enough to topple trees, bringing down power lines and leaving residents throughout the region with no eletrical power in their homes.
Connecticut Governor Dan Malloy said the volume of water in New York Sound - the waterway between Long Island and the Connecticut shore - would probably set a record.
"Tonight is our most critical time depending on the wind at high tide," said Malloy on CNN. "We have told 362,000 people that they should vacate their residences and a good number of people are listening."
Official warnings began over the weekend as the forecasters established that the East Coast was in Sandy's crosshairs. All across the region store shelves cleared of batteries, generators, ice, bottled water and other essentials and people boarded up windows.
Broadcasters showed images of rising water in areas across the mid-Atlantic coast. A large chunk of New Jersey's famed boardwalk broke free and was shown floating through the streets, while and flooding in parts of lower Manhattan and Brooklyn were reported.
"Conditions are deteriorating very rapidly and the window for (New York residents) to get out is closing," said New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg at a news conference. Bloomberg had previously ordered the evacuation of 375,000 people in low-lying areas of Manhattan, Brooklyn and Staten Island.
Off the coast of North Carolina the United States Coast Guard rescued 14 passengers and crew members stranded after they abandoned their battered three-mast sailing ship, the HMS Bounty, got caught in in the storm en route to Florida.
The Coast Guard used a helicopter to carry out the rescue, Vice Admiral Robert Parker said. Finding the two missing people in waves that were well over 7 metres high would be difficult, he added, but there was hope because they were wearing survival suits to keep them afloat and warm.
The historic ship, which later sank, had been featured in several Hollywood blockbusters.
The National Hurricane Centre in Miami said Sandy was located 425 kilometres south-east of Atlantic City, New Jersey, packing winds of 140 kilometres per hour (kph). It was expected to strengthen further as it makes landfall, forecast to be around the Delmarva Peninsula, which gets its name from the three states that occupy it - Delaware, Maryland and Virginia.
Forecasters said the hurricane was on track to combine with a cold front, which, along with high tides and a full moon, would form what was being called a Frankenstorm on the eve of Halloween.
The massive storm is about 1,500 kilometres wide and moving north-west at 32 kph. It was expected to linger over land, dumping up to 30 centimetres of rain and 1 metre of snow, and creating storm surges of more than 3 metres, the National Hurricane Center said.
The Centre said Sandy would produce "life-threatening storm-surge flooding" in the mid-Atlantic states, including Long Island Sound and New York Harbor.
A halt of trading on the New York Stock Exchange Monday and was carried through to Tuesday.
Malloy, who has deployed 800 National Guard personnel in the state, said Sandy "could be the worst storm we've seen in 70 years."
Eight days ahead of the US elections, President Barack Obama told East Coast residents to "take this seriously" and cancelled campaign appearances to monitor the hurricane. Challenger Mitt Romney called off a campaign stop in Virginia and scheduled one instead for the Midwestern battleground of Ohio.
"I think everybody is taking this very seriously. We've got prepositioned all the resources that we need, but right now the key is that the public is following instructions," he said from the White House briefing room.
Obama said he had spoken with the governors of all the impacted states and that federal resources were ready.
The federal government told non-emergency workers in Washington to stay home Monday, while the UN headquarters in New York was closed.
Sandy killed 67 people in the Caribbean last week before it began its path along the U.S. East Coast.
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