Oct 29, 2012 7:10 PM by NBC News
Pictured: An NBC News infographic tracking Hurricane Sandy minute-by-minute. Click here to view it on NBCNews.com.
(NBC NEWS) - Hurricane Sandy churned its destructive path toward the Northeast on Monday, flooding beach towns and tearing up beaches, piers and boardwalks ahead of its expected landfall.
Sandy sped up to 28 mph as it traveled toward the coast. At 5 p.m. ET, its center was 30 miles east-southeast of Cape May, N.J., the National Hurricane Center reported. Landfall was expected within the hour along southern New Jersey or central Delaware.
"It's only going to get worse," Mike Seidel, a meteorologist with The Weather Channel, told MSNBC from Point Pleasant, N.J.
About 700,000 homes and businesses had already lost power. Schools, offices, roads and transit systems shut down across an area of 50 million people.
"Millions are going to be affected," President Barack Obama said Monday as Sandy churned on a slow path that was expected to take it through a wide swath of the country.
With hurricane-force winds extending 175 miles from its center, Sandy is as broad as any hurricane to ever hit the U.S., and landfall "does not mean this is the end of the event," said Rick Knabb, director of the National Hurricane Center.
That means, Knabb said, that "for many folks, it is just beginning":
• Despite a mandatory evacuation order for 375,000 people living in low-lying areas Monday, many New Yorkers stayed put, hunkering down in in their homes.
• Hospitals across the Eastern Seaboard kicked disaster plans into place, telling emergency room crews to bring clothes and personal supplies to last several days.
• Business experts feared long-term, potentially catastrophic economic damage because of Sandy's tidal surge carries, which produces more damage than wind because water is heavier. U.S. stock exchanges didn't trade Monday and will be closed Tuesday. In Washington, federal offices closed Monday and Tuesday, and federal courts in affected areas announced that they would be shuttered.
• Thousands of flights were canceled, and rail traffic was heavily affected, with Amtrak canceling all of its Northeast Corridor service in addition to some other lines. Workers began shutting down New York City's subway, bus and commuter railroads Sunday night. The city's Holland and Brooklyn-Battery tunnels were shut down at 2 p.m. ET Monday.
• In New York, a crane atop a high-rise building under construction toppled over and was dangling over the side. Nearby offices and streets were evacuated.
• Out at sea, two people were missing after they and 14 others abandoned a replica of the HMS Bounty 90 miles southeast of Hatteras, N.C. The ship later sank in 18-foot seas.
Forecasters said the storm could bring close to a foot of rain in some regions, a potentially lethal storm surge across much of the coastline, and punishing winds that could cause widespread power failures that last for days.
"The size of this alone, affecting a heavily populated area, is going to be history-making," said Jeff Masters, a hurricane specialist for Weather Underground.
The immediate concern was beach erosion because Sandy was hitting during a full moon, which could lead to record flooding, NBC News meteorologist Al Roker said.
"It's the worst possible time," Roker said. "We're not even at the highest of high tides, and we've lost about 150 feet of beach."
Later on, Sandy is expected to collide with arctic air and a storm moving in from the west to create windy, wet, even snowy conditions far inland.
Snow had already started falling Monday morning in West Virginia, which could see as much as two feet. And in western Virginia, "we've got blizzard warnings," Gov. Bob McDaniel told NBC station WAVY-TV of Portsmouth, Va.
Power failures, meanwhile, were expected to affect millions of residents and businesses and could continue through the presidential election, NBC meteorologist Bill Karins said.
"After the storm hits, expect the cleanup and power outage restoration to continue right up through Election Day," he said.
Before it made its way north, Sandy was blamed for the deaths of 65 people in the Caribbean.