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A sign warns of a closed beachfront road in Kill Devil Hills, N.C., Sunday as the storm moves up the coast.
NEW YORK--From Washington to Boston, big cities and small towns Sunday buttoned up against the onslaught of a superstorm that could endanger 50 million people in the most heavily populated corridor in the nation, with forecasters warning that New York could get slammed by a wall of water.
"The time for preparing and talking is about over," Federal Emergency Management Administrator Craig Fugate said as Hurricane Sandy made its way up the Atlantic on a collision course with two other weather systems that could turn it into one of the most fearsome storms on record in the U.S. "People need to be acting now."
Airlines canceled more than 5,000 flights and Amtrak began suspending train service across the Northeast. New York and Philadelphia moved to shut down their subways, buses and trains Sunday night and announced that schools would be closed on Monday. Boston, Washington and Baltimore also called off school. And nonessential government employees in the nation's capital were told not to report for work this morning.
As rain from the leading edges of the monster hurricane began to fall over the Northeast, hundreds of thousands of people from Maryland to Connecticut were ordered to evacuate low-lying coastal areas Sunday, including 375,000 in lower Manhattan and other parts of New York City, 50,000 in Delaware and 30,000 in Atlantic City, N.J., where the city's 12 casinos were forced to shut down for only the fourth time ever.
"We were told to get the heck out. I was going to stay, but it's better to be safe than sorry," said Hugh Phillips, who was one of the first in line when a Red Cross shelter in Lewes, Del., opened at noon.
Authorities warned that the nation's biggest city could get hit with an 11-foot wall of water that could swamp parts of lower Manhattan, flood subway tunnels and cripple the network of electrical and communications lines that are vital to the nation's financial center.
Sandy, a Category 1 hurricane with sustained winds of 75 mph as of Sunday evening, was blamed for 65 deaths in the Caribbean before it began churning up the Eastern Seaboard. As of 5 p.m., it was centered about 530 miles southeast of New York City, moving at 15 mph, with hurricane-force winds extending an incredible 175 miles from its center.
It was expected to hook left toward the mid-Atlantic coast and come ashore late today or early Tuesday, most likely in New Jersey, colliding with a wintry storm moving in from the west and cold air streaming down from the Arctic. Forecasters said the combination could bring close to a foot of rain, a potentially lethal storm surge and punishing winds that could cause widespread power outages. The storm could also dump up to 2 feet of snow in Kentucky, North Carolina and West Virginia.