ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. — A furious Hurricane Sandy made the westward lurch that forecasters feared and took dead aim at New Jersey and Delaware on Monday, washing away part of the Atlantic City boardwalk, putting the presidential campaign on hold and threatening to cripple Wall Street and the New York subway system with an epic surge of seawater.
Gaining speed and power through the day, the storm knocked out electricity to more than 1.5 million people and figured to upend life for tens of millions more. It clobbered the boarded-up big cities of the Northeast corridor, from Washington and Baltimore to Philadelphia, New York and Boston, with stinging rain and gusts of more than 85 mph.
As it drew near, Sandy moved closer to converging with two cold-weather systems to form a hellish superstorm of snow, rain and wind. Forecasters warned of 20-foot waves bashing into the Chicago lakefront and up to 3 feet of snow in West Virginia.
Airlines canceled more than 12,000 flights, disrupting the plans of travelers all over the world, and storm damage was projected at $10 billion to $20 billion, meaning it could prove to be one of the costliest natural disasters in U.S. history.
President Barack Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney canceled their campaign appearances at the very height of the race, with just over a week to go before Election Day. The president pledged the government's help and made a direct plea from the White House to those in the storm's path.
"When they tell you to evacuate, you need to evacuate," he said. "Don't delay, don't pause, don't question the instructions that are being given, because this is a powerful storm."
Sandy, which killed 69 people in the Caribbean before making its way up the Atlantic, began to hook left at midday and was about 40 miles south of Atlantic City by evening, moving west-northwest at almost 30 mph – faster than forecasters expected.
Pete Wilson, who owns an antiques shop in Cape May, N.J., at the state's southern tip and directly in Sandy's path, said the water was 6 inches above the bottom edge of the door. He had already taken a truckload of antiques out but was certain he would take a big hit.
"My jewelry cases are going to be toast," he said. "I am not too happy. I am just going to have to wait, and hopefully clean up."
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie said people were stranded in Atlantic City, which sits on a barrier island and was mostly under water late Monday. He accused the mayor of allowing them to stay there.
With the hurricane fast approaching, Christie warned it was no longer safe for rescuers, and advised people who didn't evacuate the barrier islands to "hunker down" until morning.
"I hope, I pray, that there won't be any loss of life because of it," he said.
By early evening, the hurricane was expected to barrel into southern New Jersey or Delaware. That would put New York City and Long Island along its dangerous northeastern wall, facing perhaps 11 feet of water.
While the hurricane's 90 mph winds registered as only a Category 1 on a scale of five, it packed "astoundingly low" barometric pressure, giving it terrific energy to push water inland, said Kerry Emanuel, a professor of meteorology at MIT.
McClam reported from New York. AP Science Writer Seth Borenstein contributed to this report from Washington. Associated Press writers Allen G. Breed in Raleigh, N.C.; David Porter in Pompton Lakes, N.J.; Wayne Parry in Point Pleasant Beach, N.J.; and David Dishneau in Delaware also contributed.