NEW YORK: Millions of Americans across nine states prepared to meet the potentially devastating impact of Hurricane Sandy, a mammoth storm menacing the East Coast
President Barack Obama declared a state of emergency in the national capital as also Maryland, Massachusetts and New York as he headed back to Washington to monitor the situation from the White House after changing his campaign plans.
Nine US states have declared states of emergency and President Barack Obama has warned the nation to brace itself.
"This is a serious and big storm," Obama said after a briefing at the federal government's storm response center in Washington. "We don't yet know where it's going to hit, where we're going to see the biggest impacts."
About 50 million people from the Mid-Atlantic to Canada were in the path of the storm, which forecasters say could be the largest ever to hit the US mainland. It is expected to topple trees, damage buildings and cause widespread power outages over the next few days.
The U.S. National Hurricane Center (NHC) said on Monday the Category 1 storm had strengthened as it turned toward the coast and was moving at 15 mph (24 kph). It was expected to bring a "life-threatening storm surge", coastal hurricane winds and heavy snow in the Appalachian Mountains, the NHC said.
Why is it called 'Frankenstorm'?
Sandy, which killed 66 people in the Caribbean and has brought lashing rains to coastal areas and snow at higher elevations, will cause extensive flooding when it moves inland, forecasters said.
While Sandy does not pack the punch of Hurricane Katrina, which devastated New Orleans in 2005, its winds stretch some 520 miles (835 km) from its eye, meteorologists said.
New York and other cities and towns closed their transit systems and schools and ordered mass evacuations from low-lying areas ahead of a storm surge that could reach as high as 11 feet (3.4 meters).
Forecasters said Sandy was a rare, hybrid "super storm" created by an Arctic jet stream wrapping itself around a tropical storm, possibly causing up to 12 inches (30 cm) of rain in some areas, as well as up to 3 feet (90 cm) of snowfall in the Appalachian Mountains from West Virginia to Kentucky.
Worried residents in the hurricane's path packed stores, searching for generators, flashlights, batteries, food and other supplies in anticipation of power outages. Nearly 284,000 residential properties valued at $88 billion are at risk for damage, risk analysts at CoreLogic said.
Transportation is grinding to a halt, with airlines cancelling flights, bridges and tunnels closing, and Amtrak scrapping nearly all of its passenger rail service on the East Coast. The federal government told non-emergency workers in Washington D.C. to stay home.
New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg ordered the evacuation of some 375,000 people from low-lying areas of the city, from upscale parts of lower Manhattan to waterfront housing projects in the outer boroughs.
Hurricane Sandy derails US election campaign
As hurricane Sandy roared up the US East Coast, both President Barack Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney changed their campaign plans in their final sprint before the Nov 6 election.
With just eight days to go before what by all accounts would be one of the tightest contests for the White House, Obama scrapped his plans to campaign in Ohio Monday and instead headed back to Washington to monitor the approaching "Frankenstorm."
On Saturday, Obama's campaign had cancelled another Monday event in Virginia, as well as a Tuesday morning event in Colorado.
Romney too cancelled his Sunday plans to campaign in Virginia, which is in the storm's path, and instead joined his running mate Paul Ryan for events in Ohio.
The Republican is scheduled to campaign in Ohio, Iowa and Wisconsin on Monday, then in Ohio on Tuesday. A Romney campaign stop scheduled for Tuesday in New Hampshire was cancelled late Sunday afternoon, the campaign announced in an e-mail, CNN reported.
On Sunday, politicos from both sides said it was still too early to tell how the storm would affect the race for the White House, but that access to voting centers would be a concern if effects from the storm persist until Election Day. (Agencies)