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(NEW YORK) — Up and down the East Coast, residents are preparing for what forecasters predict could be the worst storm in two generations as Hurricane Sandy, now a 900-mile megastorm, churns towards land, putting 50 million people at risk.

The eye of Sandy is forecast to make landfall late Monday night in Atlantic City, N.J., bringing with it life-threatening storm surges, forceful winds and rainfall that could cripple transportation and leave millions without power.  But the force of the storm was already evident Sunday night, as powerful winds and high seas began lashing the coast.

Several systems will combine to wreak havok on a large section of the nation — from North Carolina to New England and as far west as the Great Lakes.

On the East Coast, a storm surge is expected along a 600-mile stretch of the Atlantic along with rainfall of 6 to 10 inches and even more in some places. 

“We want to prepare people for the worst,” New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie said on Sunday, warning that some residents could be without power for more than a week.

Christie urged people in the path of Hurricane Sandy to “remain calm and listen to instructions.”

Tens of thousands of people in coastal areas have been ordered to evacuate their homes before Hurricane Sandy pounds the eastern third of the United States.

States of emergency were declared from North Carolina to Connecticut.  Coastal communities in Delaware were ordered to evacuate by 8 p.m. Sunday night, and all non-emergency vehicles were ordered to stay off the state’s roads beginning at 5 a.m. Monday.

“While the predicted track of Hurricane Sandy has shifted a number of times over the last 24 hours, it has become clear that the state will be affected by high winds, heavy rainfall, and flooding, especially along the coastline for a several day period,” Delaware Gov. Jack Markell said.  “These factors, along with the potential for power outages, have convinced me that the prudent thing to do is have people leave most of our coastal communities.”

Hurricane Sandy’s maximum sustained winds increased to 85 mph overnight.  As of 5 a.m., the storm was centered about 385 miles southeast of New York City, and moving north at 15 mph, according to the National Hurricane Center.

It will meet up with a cold front coming from the northwest and a high pressure system from Greenland, fueling it with enough energy to make it more powerful than the so-called “Perfect Storm” in 1991, meteorologists say.

“The size of the storm is going to carve a pretty large swath of bad weather,” said Rick Knabb, director of the National Hurricane Center.  “This is not just a coastal event.”

The first rainfall from the megastorm already began to hit the coast of Virginia, Delaware and New Jersey Sunday night and forecasters warn it could bring inland flooding around Maryland and Pennsylvania.  A blizzard warning was issued for portions of West Virginia, where Sandy could bring up to two feet of snow.

Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) administrator Craig Fugate urged people in Sandy’s path to take the storm seriously and to heed any evacuation orders.

“The time for preparing and talking is about over.  People need to be acting now,” Fugate said.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


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