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Eastern United States a bull's-eye for historic, deadly megastorm Sandy

WASHINGTON -- Hurricane Sandy — upgraded again Saturday just hours after forecasters said it had weakened to a tropical storm — is expected to make landfall in the eastern United States.

The U.S. National Weather Service said that is likely to happen early Tuesday near the Delaware coast, then hit two winter weather systems as it moves inland. That may create a hybrid monster storm that could bring nearly a foot (30 centimeters) of rain, high winds and up to 2 feet (60 centimeters) of snow.

On Saturday morning, forecasters said hurricane-force winds of 75 mph (120 kph) could be felt 100 miles (160 miles) away from the storm's center.

Sandy killed more than 40 people in the Caribbean, wrecked homes and knocked down trees and power lines. Early Saturday, the storm was about 155 miles (250 kilometers) north of Great Abaco Island in the Bahamas and 350 miles (565 kilometers) south-southeast of Charleston, South Carolina.

Up and down the east coast of the United States, people were cautioned to be prepared for days without electricity.

On the shore of New Jersey state beach towns began issuing voluntary evacuations and protecting boardwalks. Atlantic City casinos made contingency plans to close, and officials advised residents of flood-prone areas to stay with family or be ready to leave. Several governors declared states of emergency. Airlines said to expect cancellations and waived change fees for passengers who want to reschedule.

“It's looking like a very serious storm that could be historic,” said Jeff Masters, meteorology director of the forecasting service Weather Underground.

With a rare mix of three big merging weather systems over a densely populated region, experts predict at least US$1 billion in damage.

Sandy, having blown through Haiti and Cuba and leaving 43 dead across the Caribbean, continued to barrel north. A wintry storm was moving across the U.S. from the west, and frigid air was streaming south from Canada.

If they meet Tuesday morning around New York or New Jersey, as forecasters predicted, they could create a big, wet mess that settles over the nation's most heavily populated corridor and reaches as far west as Ohio.

Government forecasters said there is a 90-percent chance — up from 60 percent two days earlier — that the East Coast will get pounded.

“It's going to be a long-lasting event, two to three days of impact for a lot of people,” said James Franklin, forecast chief for the National Hurricane Center.

Some have compared the tempest to the so-called Perfect Storm that struck off the coast of New England in 1991, but that one hit a less populated area.

“The Perfect Storm only did US$200 million of damage and I'm thinking a billion” this time, Masters said. “Yeah, it will be worse.”

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Andy Lugo talks on the phone after stocking up on supplies for branches of First Republic Bank in anticipation of disruption from storm elements of Hurricane Sandy in New York on Friday, Oct. 26. Some New Yorkers are preparing for possibly devastating effects from the approaching storm. (AFP)

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