NEW YORK — Hurricane Sandy wheeled toward land as forecasters feared Monday, raking cities along the Northeast corridor with rain and wind gusts, flooding shore towns, washing away a section of the Atlantic City Boardwalk, and threatening to cripple Wall Street and New York's subway system with a huge surge of corrosive seawater.
The storm picked up speed in the afternoon and was expected to blow ashore in New Jersey or Delaware by the evening, hours sooner than previously expected. Forecasters warned it would combine with two other weather systems - a wintry storm from the west and cold air rushing in from the Arctic - to create an epic superstorm.
By midafternoon, the storm was 55 miles southeast of Cape May, N.J., its winds at 90 mph. It had speeded up to 28 mph and had begun the turn toward the coast that forecasters had feared.
From Washington to Boston, subways, buses, trains and schools were shut down and more than 7,000 flights grounded across the region of 50 million people. The New York Stock Exchange was closed. And hundreds of thousands of people were under orders to move to higher ground to await the storm's fury.
More than 1 million people lost power as the storm closed in.
In New York, waves splashed over the sea walls at the southern tip of Manhattan, already at Hurricane Irene levels Monday hours before the worst of a mammoth storm was to hit the nation's largest city with a wall of water that could reach 11 feet.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo closed two key tunnels to downtown Manhattan after the city shut its mass transit system, stock exchanges, schools and Broadway and ordered hundreds of thousands of people to leave their homes ahead of Hurricane Sandy's storm surge. While light rain fell steadily and New Yorkers still bustled on the streets, Cuomo warned residents to get out of the way.
"Don't be fooled, don't look out the window and say, it doesn't look so bad," Cuomo said. "The worst is still coming."
Because of Sandy's vast reach, with tropical storm-force winds extending almost 500 miles from its center, other major cities across the Northeast - Washington, Baltimore, Philadelphia and Boston - also prepared to for the worst.
"The days ahead are going to be very difficult," Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley said. "There will be people who die and are killed in this storm."
Federal government offices in Washington, D.C., will be closed to the public on Tuesday, as Hurricane Sandy threatens to cause extensive damage to the area. Amtrak also said it has canceled all Tuesday service in the Northeast due to high winds and heavy rain from Hurricane Sandy.