WASHINGTON -- Sandy, the monster hurricane, continued on a grim path toward the mid-Atlantic coastline Sunday, as millions of anxious residents braced for high winds, torrential rains, heavy flooding, power blackouts and a lot of misery.
The hurricane, which churned 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 a wide swath 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," FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate said in a conference call with reporters 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 Accu Weather, 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. Also, 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 Obama would fly back to Washington on Monday after a campaign event in Ohio in order to monitor preparations for and response to the storm.
While the annual Marine Corps Marathon got underway under windy, cloudy skies in Washington, D.C., 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 with reporters.
"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."
In Reheboth Beach, Del., people who live within a quarter-mile of the shore were ordered to evacuate by 8 p.m. Sunday. Officials warned that Sandy could bring a foot of more of rain and a storm surge that could "approach the storm surge created by the great nor'easter of 1962, the storm of modern record."
Officials in Ocean City, Md., also ordered mandatory evacuation by 8 p.m. Sunday of residents in its downtown area.
In Baltimore County, director of emergency management Mark Hubbard warned residents on his agency's website: "We should be prepared for a long-lasting event with several days of disruption to our daily lives."