New York authorities ordered the evacuation of 375,000 people from low-lying coastal areas as the imminent arrival of Hurricane Sandy forced the entire eastern seaboard into lockdown mode, AFP reported.
More than 7,400 flights out of east coast hubs were cancelled and ground transport was due to grind to a halt on Monday as non-essential government staff were told not to show up for work and public schools were shuttered.
Hundreds of thousands of residents in low-lying coastal areas were under orders to clear out. An AFP reporter said the beach resort of Rehoboth in Delaware was a ghost town as the deadline passed for mandatory evacuation.
Meanwhile, the report said, President Barack Obama's campaign voiced fears about turnout on November 6 and both candidates pulled out of rallies in must-win states.
"My first message is to all people across the eastern seaboard, mid-Atlantic going north. You need to take this very seriously," Obama said, urging 50 million Americans across the region to heed the advice of local authorities.
The president, who spoke after being briefed at the headquarters of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), cautioned that Sandy was a slow-moving storm that certain areas would take a long time to recover from.
The National Weather Service office in New Jersey held no punches in its warning to residents, saying, “If you are reluctant, think about your loved ones, think about the emergency responders who will be unable to reach you when you make the panicked phone call to be rescued, think about the rescue/recovery teams who will rescue you if you are injured or recover your remains if you do not survive.”
Fearful residents from Washington to New York to Boston queued for emergency provisions like bottled water and batteries in long lines that stretched out the doors of supermarkets, reported AFP.
Packing hurricane force winds upwards of 75 miles per hour, the storm was about 485 miles south of New York as of 0000 GMT Monday, the National Hurricane Center said.
Winds stretched more than 500 miles from its eye, meaning everywhere from South Carolina to southern Canada was due to be affected.
"The system is so large that I would say millions of people are at least in areas that have some chance of experiencing either flash flooding or river flooding," National Hurricane Center director Rick Knabb told AFP.
Current projections show Sandy barreling north on a collision course with two other weather systems that would send it hooking into the Delaware or New Jersey coast as one of the worst storms on record.
Weather experts say the collision could create a super-charged storm bringing floods, high winds and even heavy snow across a swath of eastern states and as far inland as Ohio.
Forecasters warned that New York Harbor and the Long Island Sound could see seawater surges of up to 11 feet above normal levels.
Amtrak suspended all bus and train services up and down the coast on Monday. Subway services, buses and commuter trains were also in the process of shutting down Sunday night in New York, Philadelphia and Washington.
Governors have declared states of emergency in Connecticut, Delaware, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Vermont, Virginia and the U.S. capital Washington.
New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg on Sunday ordered the closure of all city public schools for Monday. He urged residents in lower Manhattan to call 311 or visit the city's website for information on evacuation zones.