Tens of millions of residents along the U.S. East Coast awaited the wrath of Hurricane Sandy, expected to make landfall sometime Monday, forecasters said.
The storm forced the crew of a replica tall ship to abandon the vessel off the North Carolina coast.
The "superstorm," which officials estimated could threaten as many as 60 million people, forced the closing of stock markets, schools and transit systems and the cancellation of flights and train schedules.
"It could be bad," U.S. Coast Guard Rear Adm. Steven Rattior told CNN, "or it could be devastation."
The crew aboard a replica HMS Bounty, the vessel used in the 1962 movie "Mutiny on the Bounty," abandoned ship Monday off the coast of North Carolina, the Coast Guard said in a statement. The 17-member crew boarded two lifeboats after sending a distress signal Sunday.
States of emergency were declared along the Eastern Seaboard.
From North Carolina to Maine, government officials told residents to clear out and some communities were described as near ghost towns as the hurricane bore down on the Mid-Atlantic coastline.
Forecasters said Sandy likely would collide with a cold front, spawning a superstorm capable of generating flash floods, snowstorms and massive power outages, CNN reported.
The Category 1 hurricane, already responsible for at least 67 deaths in the Caribbean, was expected to strengthen and bring a life-threatening storm-surge and vicious winds to coastal areas and heavy snows in the Appalachian Mountains as it moved along the Eastern Seaboard, the National Hurricane Center said in its 8 a.m. EDT advisory.
Sandy, with maximum sustained winds of 85 mph, was about 265 miles southeast of Atlantic City, N.J., and about 310 miles south-southeast of New York, moving north-northwest at 20 mph, the center said.
Sandy was expected to turn toward the northwest Monday, and then shift to the west-northwest in the evening. On its projected path, the center of the storm will move over the mid-Atlantic coastal areas Monday night.
The hurricane was expected to gradually weaken after moving inland, forecasters said.
Hurricane-force winds extended outward from the center up to 175 miles. Tropical storm force winds extended out from center about 485 miles.
Gale force winds already were reported across portions of the Mid-Atlantic states, from North Carolina to Long Island, N.Y., and were expected to spread. Hurricane force winds could reach the Mid-Atlantic states later Monday.
Storm-surge and high tide could raise water levels anywhere from 1-to-11 feet above normal along the East Coast to the Canadian border.
Varying amounts of rainfall were forecast along the East Coast.
Snow accumulations of 2-3 feet were expected in the mountains of West Virginia, with lesser amounts in the mountains of southern Virginia and North Carolina near Tennessee and in western Maryland.
"The last time we saw anything like this was never," Connecticut Gov. Dannell Malloy said Sunday. "I don't know how to say it any clearer than that is the largest threat to human life our state has experienced in anyone's lifetime."
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie was more direct: "Don't be stupid. Get out."
Classes were canceled for more than 2 million public school students in New York, Philadelphia, Boston and Baltimore Monday. Numerous universities, along with federal and state offices also were shuttered.
The U.S. stock exchanges were to be closed Monday and possibly Tuesday.
The United Nations canceled all meetings at its New York headquarters. Broadway shows were canceled, as were performances at New York's Carnegie Hall and the Metropolitan Opera.
Atlantic City casinos were shut down under orders from the governor.
Thousands of flights were canceled, Amtrak train canceled runs and hundreds of roadways were expected to flood, CNN said.
The U.S. Coast Guard responded to the Bounty's distress call, issued about 90 miles southwest of Cape Hatteras. Coast Guard Sector North Carolina said it received a call from the owner of the Bounty, a 180-foot, three-mast tall ship.
The Coast Guard 5th District command center in Portsmouth, Va., subsequently got a radio beacon signal registered to the Bounty, confirming the distress and its position. An air crew was sent to the scene.
Sandy affected presidential campaigning. President Obama canceled an appearance in Orlando, Fla., Monday and returned to the White House. He had earlier called off a trip to Ohio.
Early voting was canceled in several states. Virginia's governor said Sunday his state would take measures to ensure residents could vote, despite potential hurdles created by the storm.
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