Mel Evans, Associated Press
SHIP BOTTOM, N.J. — With much of the Eastern Seaboard in the path of a rare behemoth storm, residents of the nation's most densely populated corridor contemplated whether to heed dire warnings of torrential rain, high winds and up to 2 feet of snow.
"You know how many times they tell you, 'This is it, it's really coming and it's really the big one,' and then it turns out not to be?" said Alice Stockton-Rossini as she packed up to leave her home a few hundred yards from the ocean in Ship Bottom, N.J.
"I'm afraid people will tune it out because of all the false alarms before, and the one time you need to take it seriously, you won't. This one might be the one."
Hurricane Sandy — upgraded again Saturday just hours after forecasters said it had weakened to a tropical storm — was barreling north from the Caribbean and was expected to make landfall early Tuesday near the Delaware coast, then hit two winter weather systems as it moves inland, creating a hybrid monster storm.
Even if Sandy loses strength and makes landfall as something less than a hurricane, the combined storm was expected to bring misery to a huge section of the East. An 800-mile wide swath of the country could see 50 mph winds regardless of Sandy's strength.
Experts said the storm could be wider and stronger than Irene, which caused more than $15 billion in damage, and could rival the worst East Coast storm on record. On Saturday morning, forecasters said hurricane-force winds of 75 mph could be felt 100 miles away from the storm's center.
Up and down the coast, people were cautioned to be prepared for days without electricity. Jersey Shore beach towns began issuing voluntary evacuations and protecting boardwalks. Atlantic City casinos made contingency plans to close, and officials advised residents of flood-prone areas to stay with family or be ready to leave. Several governors declared states of emergency. Airlines said to expect cancellations and waived change fees for passengers who want to reschedule.
"Be forewarned," Connecticut Gov. Dannel P. Malloy. "Assume that you will be in the midst of flooding conditions, the likes of which you may not have seen at any of the major storms that have occurred over the last 30 years."
In North Carolina's Outer Banks, light rain was falling Saturday and winds were building up to a predicted 30 to 50 mph. A steady stream of campers and other vehicles hauling boats were leaving the low-lying islands for the mainland. Residents feared a temporary bridge built after Irene last year poked a new inlet through the island could be washed out again, severing the only road off Hatteras Island.
In Ship Bottom, N.J., Russ Linke was taking no chances Saturday. He and his wife secured the patio furniture, packed the bicycles into the pickup truck and headed off the island.
"I've been here since 1997, and I never even put my barbecue grill away during a storm, but I am taking this one seriously," he said. "They say it might hit here; that's about as serious as it can get."
At a Home Depot in Freeport, on New York's Long Island, Bob Notheis bought sawhorses to get his furniture off the floor inside his home.
"I'm just worried about how bad it's going to be with the tidal surge," he said. "Irene was kind of rough on me and I'm just trying to prepare."
After Irene left millions without power, utilities were taking no chances and were lining up extra crews and tree-trimmers. Wind threatened to topple power lines, and trees that still have leaves could be weighed down by snow and fall over if the weight becomes too much.
New York City began precautions for an ominous but still uncertain forecast. No decision had been made on whether any of the city's public transportation outlets would be shut, despite predictions that a sudden shift of the storm's path could cause a surge of 3 to 6 feet in the subways.
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