Much of the eastern United States is in lockdown mode awaiting the arrival of a hurricane dubbed "Frankenstorm" that threatens to wreak havoc on the area with storm surges, driving rain and devastating winds.
New York authorities ordered the evacuation of 375 000 people yesterday from low-lying coastal areas as the imminent arrival of Hurricane Sandy, which strengthened overnight and forced the entire eastern seaboard to out its normal life on hold.
More than 7 400 flights out of east coast hubs were canceled and ground transport was due to grind to a halt as non-essential government staff were told not to show up for work.
Amtrak suspended all bus and train services up and down the coast. Subway services, buses and commuter trains were also shut down in New York, Philadelphia and Washington. The New York Stock Exchange, Nasdaq and the futures markets in Chicago said they will be closed on today, and possibly even tomorrow.
The United Nations canceled its meetings at its New York headquarters, Broadway theaters and Carnegie Hall shut their doors, and classes were canceled at schools in Baltimore, Boston and Washington as well as a host of smaller towns.
You need to take this very seriously," Obama said, urging 50 million Americans across the region to heed the advice of local authorities.
Hundreds of thousands of residents in low-lying coastal areas were under orders to clear out and an AFP reporter said the beach resort of Rehoboth in Delaware was a ghost town as the deadline passed for mandatory evacuation.
Mindful of Hurricane Katrina, which flooded ill-prepared New Orleans in 2005, killed more than 1 800 people and left an indelible mark on George W. Bush's presidency, President Barack Obama took no chances, ordering emergency agencies to stand ready and asking people to take every possible precaution.
"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 time for preparing and talking is about over," FEMA administrator Craig Fugate warned. "People need to be acting now."
Obama signed emergency declarations to free up federal disaster funds for New York state, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Maryland, the District of Columbia, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Rhode Island.
As some defiant New Yorkers stocked up on beer and laughed off evacuation orders saying they intended to ride out the storm, the National Weather Service office in neighboring New Jersey held no punches in its warning to residents.
"If you are reluctant to evacuate, and you know someone who rode out the '62 storm on the Barrier Islands, ask them if they could do it again," a bulletin said, referring to the notorious Ash Wednesday storm of 1962. "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.