WASHINGTON — Hurricane Sandy continued on a path toward the mid-Atlantic coastline Sunday, as millions of people braced for high winds, torrential rains, heavy flooding, power blackouts and other miseries.
The hurricane, off the North Carolina coast Sunday morning, was expected to roar ashore, perhaps on the New Jersey coastline, on Monday night or early Tuesday. But winds of up to 60 mph were expected to begin battering much of the Eastern Seaboard on Monday.
Federal officials warned of predicted high storm surges that already have prompted evacuation orders in scores of coastal communities in New Jersey, New York, Delaware and other states.
“We’ve been talking about Sandy for a couple of days, but the time for preparing and talking is about over,” Federal Emergency Management Agency Administrator Craig Fugate said in a conference call Sunday, urging coastal residents to heed evacuation orders. The storm, he said, is expected to produce a “very high potentially life-threatening” surge.
Tom Kines, a meteorologist with AccuWeather, said he hasn’t seen anything like Sandy in his nearly 30 years on the job. “As far as the amount of damage that she will likely do, this is a once in a lifetime storm,” he said.
Strong winds will be felt hundreds of miles away from the center of the hurricane, he said.
The storm is expected to dump 4 to 8 inches of rain, though 12 inches could fall in some communities. Storm surge and high tides could reach 6 to 11 feet in some areas. Two feet or more of snow could fall in West Virginia.
In Virginia, Jeff Caldwell, a spokesman for Gov. Bob McDonnell, said officials are bracing for strong winds and heavy rain in the eastern half of the state and possibly snow along the western border.
“With the potential for high winds and flooding, we are prepared to close the Hampton Roads tunnels, which will shut down the interstates in that region,” he told the Los Angeles Times. “All in all, Virginia remains under a state of emergency and is preparing for a difficult couple of days, and we are advising citizens to be vigilant in their own preparations.”
With millions of residents expected to lose power in the mid-Atlantic, and possibly farther north, utility companies rushed in reinforcement crews from as far away as New Mexico. Officials predicted that power could be out for a week or more in communities.
The White House announced that President Barack Obama would fly back to Washington on Monday after a campaign event in Ohio, to monitor preparations for and response to the storm.
The storm already was affecting travel across the country. Thousands of flights have been cancelled.
“The weather is already going downhill in the mid-Atlantic states,” National Hurricane Center Director Rick Knabb said in the conference call.
“We have tropical storm conditions through Cape Hatteras and now into southern Virginia,” said Todd Kimberlain, a forecaster at the National Hurricane Center. “Those are going to start spreading up the coast into the remainder of the coastal Virginia, the Chesapeake Bay and then into the mid-Atlantic region,” probably by Sunday afternoon.
“The winds are spread out over a huge area,” Kimberlain said. “Even though the center may come ashore in New Jersey, the strong winds are going to extend all the way up into Boston.”