Hurricane Sandy threatens East Coast

Pelting rains, whipping winds, mass evacuations: There is no doubt that Hurricane Sandy, by Sunday, had already made a mammoth impact on the U.S. East Coast.

And it should only get worse.

That's the consensus view, among forecasters and officials, as the Category 1 storm continued to chug northeastward parallel to the shore. Even with its eye still hundreds of miles away, those on the North Carolina and Virginia coasts felt its wrath Sunday.

But if, as expected, it turns toward the United States later in the day, Sandy will have an even more direct -- and potentially calamitous -- effect on millions of Americans. Forecasters warn it will likely collide with a cold front from the West to spawn a "superstorm" that could slog along the Eastern Seaboard for days -- meaning even more flooding, even more power outages, even more potential danger.

Millions of people could experience flash flooding or river flooding by the time the storm has passed, which might not happen until Wednesday, said Rick Knabb, director of the National Hurricane Center. That Miami-based agency, in its 5 p.m. advisory, warned of no less than "life-threatening storm surge flooding the Mid-Atlantic coast, including Long Island and New York Harbor," in addition to its hurricane-force winds.

"Sandy has a tremendous amount of energy... It could be bad, or it could be devastation," U.S. Coast Guard Adm. Steven Ratti told CNN. "It's so far out, so we don't know exactly where it will hit."

Already on Sunday, power was knocked out in places such as Hampton Roads, Virginia, as rough waves crashed along the coast, said Penelope Penn. Another CNN iReporter, Elizabeth Switzer, reported waves topping 12 feet further south along Carolina Beach outside Wilmington, North Carolina.

Hurricane-force winds extended 175 miles out from Sandy's eye, according to the National Hurricane Center's 5 p.m. update, meaning it is much larger than most storms of its type.

Sandy prompted evacuation orders on North Carolina's Outer Banks and New Jersey's barrier islands. Low-lying areas of New York City, including Coney Island and parts of Manhattan, are being cleared out as well.

Jim Brady was among those who heeded the call, leaving his Cape May home about three blocks from the Atlantic and heading 85 miles north to his sister-in-law's house in Toms River. Having packed what they can and stashed bigger valuables as high as possible, what happens next is now out of their hands -- knowing that it might not be until Monday night when the storm really rolls in, with a possible 12-foot storm surge, and they know if their home has skirted disaster.

"We'll just hunker down and wait for it to pass, basically," Brady said.

Many other communities, big and small, are bracing for the worst. Subway service will halt at 7 p.m. Sunday in New York City, the city that never sleeps, at which point many NJ Transit transportation options also won't be running.

Across the bay from Brooklyn in Sea Bright, New Jersey, Yvette Cafaro pleaded on the plywood that covered up her seaside burger restaurant, "Be kind to us Sandy." The seaside area largely dodged last year's Hurricane Irene, and they are hoping for -- but not expecting -- any more reprieves.

"Everything that we've been watching on the news looks like this one will really get us," Cafaro said. "We're definitely worried about it ... But we're doing everything we can to prepare. And hopefully, she'll spare us."

Officials from North Carolina to Maine have been raising alarms, and taking preventive steps like the subway shut-down, for days.

By Sunday afternoon, officials already had canceled classes Monday for well over 2 million public school students in districts such as New York, Philadelphia, Boston and Baltimore. Thousands of flights were called off, Amtrak train runs scuttled, and Halloween plans threw into question -- all thanks to Sandy.

"This is a serious and big storm," President Barack Obama said Sunday, urging people to heed the advice of local and state officials as they prepare for the "slow moving," high-impact storm.