Hurricane Sandy Barrels Up East Coast; Officials Warn Residents to Prepare

VIDEO: 66 million Americans are in path of "super storm" that may land in New Jersey Tuesday.
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Cocoa Beach is one of the widest beaches in Florida -- but not tonight.

Because of Hurricane Sandy, centered far to the East near the Bahamas, the beach is almost 100 yards narrower as the ocean surges in, giving an indication of how strong the storm is. Cocoa Beach was experiencing waves as high as 10 feet right on shore and was expecting wind gusts up to 60 mph tonight.

But Florida may get off relatively easy on this one. This storm appears poised to move northward parallel to the East Coast before turning to make landfall in the Northeast. Current forecasts suggest a possible landfall Tuesday in the vicinity of New Jersey, but with a broad swath of harsh conditions also hitting surrounding states.

Meteorologists are predicting that Sandy, now a category 1 storm, is turning into an "extra-tropical cyclone" that will hit a broad region with 50 mph winds and rain and storm surges as it barrels up the East Coast toward New York, in what some are calling the "storm of the century."

HURRICANE SANDY: FULL COVERAGE

Forecasters fear up to 10 inches of rain turning into two feet of snow in higher altitudes could hit the East Coast next week, and are warning that the track could still change as much as 200 miles.

"This storm has -- it certainly has the potential to stand on its own. We are dealing with categories we don't normally see here," Dr. Louis Uccellini, director of NOAA's National Centers for Environmental Prediction, said.

Uccellini said that it's still too soon to tell who's going to get hit -- and how hard -- as the storm moves back toward the East Coast, and that this storm has "some similarities" to the so-called "perfect storm" of 1991 that hit with massive waves and coastal flooding, killing 13.

"There will be significant surge with this as the storm moves from the Southeast to the Northwest towards the coastline, and that's going to become a very important part of the forecast for us as we near this event at the beginning part of the week," he said. HURRICANE SANDY: LIVE STORM TRACKER By next week Sandy is expected to turn into a winter storm hybrid -- dubbed a "Frankenstorm" by National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration forecaster Jim Cisco -- and could ravage the coast with tropical storm winds.

"This is not being overhyped. I would use the terms 'devastating' and 'historic,'" Accuweather's Bernie Rayno said. "A one-in-30 year storm, or even in the fact the way this storm is going to be tracking east toward the coastline in New Jersey, it could be a once-in-a-lifetime storm."

Along the Jersey Shore, emergency management officials are counting on mounds of sand as their first line of defense against an anticipated storm surge. Locals are anticipating mandatory evacuations, and voluntary evacuations are already underway in Cape May County, on New Jersey's southern tip.

Up and down the East Coast tonight, utility workers are out in full force preparing for potentially extensive power outages, with states calling in hundreds of extra workers.

As for residents, they're getting ready in case they have to spend a few days in the dark, stocking up on essentials such as generators, which many stores sold out of this morning. The shortages meant that generators that would normally average about $500 were being sold online for as much as $1,400.

"This storm is still some ways off in many parts of the country," said Craig Fugate, administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, according to ABC News Radio. "You have the weekend to get ready, but that window will close as the storm gets closer and conditions continue to deteriorate. We urge people to check their plans, make sure they've got their supplies ready."

New York City and northern regions in the eastern corridor are likely to be hit hard, and forecasters are warning that the storm may linger for days as it covers a massive area. There is a 90 percent chance that on Monday the East Coast will take a direct hit, forecasters say.

"Compared to [Hurricane] Irene, we're going to see much broader surge impacts. The surge impacts for Irene were fairly tightly focused. This is going to be a broader event. Same thing with the wind," James Franklin, with the NHC, told ABC News.

In New York City, city agencies were gearing up for a potential huge hit, though Mayor Michael Bloomberg did not issue evacuation orders for residents in low-lying areas on Friday. But that could change, so he suggested people stay tuned in and not get complacent just because Irene didn't pack as big a punch as feared in the city.

"That may be a corollary effect, that people think you are crying 'wolf,'" Bloomberg said. "But we don't do this lightly."

Hundreds of miles south in Virginia, Gov. Bob McDonnell declared a state of emergency on Friday.

"This is an event that is going to be beginning to affect the coastal areas of Virginia as early as [Saturday] morning," he said, "and the effects of which could last until next Tuesday with rain and next Wednesday with wind.

"People ought to know that, unlike some that come in and out in 24, 48 hours, it's going to be a long-standing weather event with wind and flooding and heavy rain, and very uniquely followed by cold," he added.

ABC's of the Hurricane Season Travel 2012 Sandy, currently a category 1 storm, was moving slowly away from the Bahamas today as its western fringe was expected to scrape eastern Florida, according to the National Weather Service.

As of 5 p.m., tropical storm warnings or watches were in effect ranging from the east coast of Florida north of Deerfield Beach to the area of Albemarle Sound in North Carolina, according to the National Weather Service.

"We don't have many modern precedents for what the models are suggesting," NOAA's Jim Cisco told the Associated Press. "It's almost a weeklong, five-day, six-day event. It's going to be a widespread, serious storm."

The storm has left more than 20 people dead across the Caribbean, killing 11 people in eastern Santiago and Guantanamo provinces and 10 in Haiti.

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