Tens of thousands of residents were ordered to evacuate coastal areas in the north eastern United States today as big cities and small towns across the US Northeast braced for the onslaught of a superstorm threatening some 60 million people along the most heavily populated corridor in the nation.
"The time for preparing and talking is about over," Federal Emergency Management Administrator Craig Fugate warned as a monster Hurricane Sandy headed up the Atlantic Coast on a collision course with two other weather systems. "People need to be acting now."
New York City announced its subways, buses and trains would stop running on Sunday night its 1.1 million-student school system would be closed tomorrow. Mayor Michael Bloomberg also ordered the evacuation of part of lower Manhattan and other low-lying neighbourhoods.
Tens of thousands of people along the coast in Delaware, New Jersey, Connecticut and other threatened areas were also under orders to clear out because of as much as a foot of rain, punishing winds of 80mph, and a potentially deadly wall of water four to 11ft high.
Sandy was headed north from the Caribbean, where it left at least 65 people dead, mostly in Haiti, and was expected to hook left toward the mid-Atlantic coast and come ashore late Monday 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 warned that the resulting megastorm could wreak havoc over 800 miles from the East Coast to the Great Lakes. Parts of West Virginia, Virginia, Kentucky and North Carolina could get snow - 2ft or more in places.
States of emergency were declared from North Carolina, where gusty winds whipped steady rain on Sunday morning, to Connecticut. Delaware ordered 50,000 people in coastal communities to clear out by 8 pm tonight local time.
Officials in New York City were particularly worried about the possibility of subway flooding. However, the New York Stock Exchange planned to open for trading as usual on Monday, despite fears that flooding would damage the underground electrical network that is so vital to the nation's financial centre.
In New Jersey, hundreds of coastal residents started moving inland. Governor Chris 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 legalised gambling there.
The storm also forced the presidential campaign to juggle schedules. Republican challenger Mitt Romney scrapped plans to campaign in Virginia and switched his schedule for the day to Ohio. First lady Michelle Obama cancelled an appearance in New Hampshire for Tuesday, and Barack Obama moved a planned departure to Florida earlier to beat the storm. He also cancelled appearances in Northern Virginia on Monday and Colorado on Tuesday.