Julio Cortez, AP
ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. — Hurricane Sandy wheeled toward land as forecasters feared Monday, raking cities along the Northeast corridor with rain and wind gusts, flooding shore towns, washing away a section of the Atlantic City Boardwalk, and threatening to cripple Wall Street and New York's subway system with a huge surge of corrosive seawater.
The storm picked up speed in the afternoon and was expected to blow ashore in New Jersey or Delaware by the evening, hours sooner than previously expected. Forecasters warned it would combine with two other weather systems — a wintry storm from the west and cold air rushing in from the Arctic — to create an epic superstorm.
From Washington to Boston, subways, buses, trains and schools were shut down and more than 7,000 flights grounded across the region of 50 million people. The New York Stock Exchange was closed. And hundreds of thousands of people were under orders to move to higher ground to await the storm's fury.
President Barack Obama and Mitt Romney suspended their campaigning with just over a week to go before Election Day.
At the White House, the president made a direct appeal to those in harm's way: "Please listen to what your state and local officials are saying. When they tell you to evacuate, you need to evacuate. Don't delay, don't pause, don't question the instructions that are being given, because this is a powerful storm."
More than 1 million people lost power as the storm closed in.
Authorities warned that New York City and Long Island could get the worst of the storm surge: an 11-foot onslaught of seawater that could swamp lower Manhattan, flood the subways and damage the underground network of electrical and communications lines that are vital to the nation's financial capital.
Because of Sandy's vast reach, with tropical storm-force winds extending almost 500 miles from its center, other major cities across the Northeast — Washington, Baltimore, Philadelphia and Boston — also prepared to for the worst.
"The days ahead are going to be very difficult," Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley said. "There will be people who die and are killed in this storm."
Sheila Gladden evacuated her home in Philadelphia's flood-prone Eastwick neighborhood and headed to a hotel.
"I'm not going through this again," said Gladden, who had 5 1/2 feet of water in her home after Hurricane Floyd in 1999.
By midafternoon, the storm was 55 miles southeast of Cape May, N.J., its winds at 90 mph. It had speeded up to 28 mph and had begun the turn toward the coast that forecasters had feared.
A construction crane atop a luxury high-rise in New York City collapsed and dangled precariously over the streets, which were cleared as a precaution. Forecasters said the winds atop the building may have been close to 95 mph.
The storm also washed away an old section of the world-famous Atlantic City Boardwalk and left most of the city's emptied-out streets under water. All 12 casinos in the city were closed, and some 30,000 people were under orders to evacuate.
"When I think about how much water is already in the streets, and how much more is going to come with high tide tonight, this is going to be devastating. I think this is going to be a really bad situation tonight," said Bob McDevitt, president of the main Atlantic City casino workers union.
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, addressing those who were told to evacuate the state's barrier islands, said in his usual blunt way: "This is not a time to be a show-off. This is not a time to be stupid. This is the time to save yourself and your family."
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