CAPE HATTERAS, N.C. (AP) — Hurricane Sandy struck close to home for Bay Area residents today, as one of the tall ships that frequents Coos Bay had to be abandoned off the North Carolina Coast.
About 90 miles off Cape Hatteras, N.C., the Coast Guard rescued 14 crew members of a replica of the 18th-century tall ship HMS Bounty, made famous in the movie 'Mutiny on the Bounty." The Coast Guard searched for two other crew members.
The rescued had donned survival suits and life jackets and boarded two lifeboats after the ship began taking on water. They were plucked from 18-foot seas just before sunrise.
The ship is 180 feet long and 32 feet wide, making it one of the larger tall ships that visits Coos Bay.
Hurricane Sandy bore down on the Eastern Seaboard's largest cities today, forcing the shutdown of mass transit, schools and financial markets, sending coastal residents fleeing, and threatening a dangerous mix of high winds, soaking rain and a surging wall of water up to 11 feet tall.
Sandy strengthened before dawn and stayed on a predicted path toward Washington, Baltimore, Philadelphia and New York -- putting it on a collision course with two other weather systems that would create a superstorm with the potential for havoc over 800 miles from the East Coast to the Great Lakes. About 2 to 3 feet of snow were even forecast for mountainous parts of West Virginia.
The tempest could endanger up to 50 million people for days.
'This is the worst-case scenario," said Louis Uccellini, environmental prediction chief for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
Many workers planned to stay home today as subways, buses and trains shut down across the region under the threat of flooding that could inundate tracks and tunnels. Airports also closed, with thousands of flights canceled, and authorities warned that the time for evacuation was running out or already past. Utilities brought in extra crews, anticipating widespread power failures.
The center of the storm was positioned to come ashore tonight in New Jersey, meaning the worst of the surge could be in the northern part of that state and in New York City and on Long Island. Higher tides brought by a full moon compounded the threat to the metropolitan area of about 20 million people.
Canals around Long Island's Great South Bay area were bulging two hours before high tide. Water was about a foot deep on some streets in Lindenhurst, N.Y., by 7 a.m. today.
As rain from the leading edges began to fall over the Northeast on Sunday, hundreds of thousands of people from Maryland to Connecticut were ordered to leave low-lying coastal areas, including 375,000 in lower Manhattan and other parts of New York City, 50,000 in Delaware and 30,000 in Atlantic City, N.J., where the city's 12 casinos shut down for only the fourth time ever.
'I think this one's going to do us in," said Mark Palazzolo, who boarded up his bait-and-tackle shop in Point Pleasant Beach, N.J., with the same wood he used in past storms, crossing out the names of Hurricanes Isaac and Irene and spray-painting 'Sandy" next to them. 'I got a call from a friend of mine from Florida last night who said, 'Mark, get out! If it's not the storm, it'll be the aftermath. People are going to be fighting in the streets over gasoline and food.'"
President Barack Obama declared emergencies in Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island, New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania, authorizing federal relief work to begin well ahead of time. He promised the government would 'respond big and respond fast" after the storm hits.
'My message to the governors as well as to the mayors is anything they need, we will be there, and we will cut through red tape," Obama said. 'We are not going to get bogged down with a lot of rules."
Authorities warned that New York could get hit with a surge of seawater that could swamp parts of lower Manhattan, flood subway tunnels and cripple the network of electrical and communications lines that are vital to the nation's financial center.
'If you don't evacuate, you are not only endangering your life, you are also endangering the lives of the first responders who are going in to rescue you," Mayor Michael Bloomberg warned. 'This is a serious and dangerous storm."
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie was typically blunt: 'Don't be stupid. Get out."
Wary of being seen as putting their political pursuits ahead of public safety, Obama and Republican nominee Mitt Romney reshuffled campaign plans as the storm approached.
In Virginia, one of the most competitive states, election officials eased absentee voting requirements for those affected by the storm. Early voting was canceled today in Maryland and the District of Columbia.
Sandy, a Category 1 hurricane with sustained winds of 85 mph early today, was blamed for 65 deaths in the Caribbean before it began traveling northward, parallel to the Eastern Seaboard. As of 8 a.m. today, it was centered about 310 miles south-southeast of New York City, moving to the north at 20 mph, with hurricane-force winds extending an unusual 175 miles from its center.
Gale-force winds blew overnight over coastal North Carolina, southeastern Virginia, the Delmarva Peninsula and coastal New Jersey.
Sandy was expected to hook inland today, colliding with a wintry storm moving in from the west and cold air streaming down from the Arctic, and then cut across into Pennsylvania and travel up through New York state.
Forecasters said the combination could bring close to a foot of rain in places, a potentially lethal storm surge of 4 to 11 feet across much of the region, and punishing winds that could cause widespread power outages that last for days. The storm could also dump up to 2 feet of snow in Kentucky, North Carolina and West Virginia.
FEMA administrator Craig Fugate said the agency's teams were deployed from North Carolina to Maine and as far inland as West Virginia, bringing generators and basic supplies that will be needed in the storm's aftermath.
'I have not been around long enough to see a hurricane forecast with a snow advisory in it," Fugate told NBC's 'Today" show.