East Coast grinds to a halt as Hurricane Sandy nears

Areas of possible flooding in Central New York

Forecasters say Hurricane Sandy is expected to come ashore Monday night in New Jersey bringing high winds, soaking rain and a surging wall of water up to 11 feet tall. The National Weather Service predicts sustained winds of 30 to 40 mph Monday afternoon through Tuesday, and one to six inches of rain

The National Hurricane Center said early Monday that the storm has top sustained winds of 85 mph, with higher gusts. It is moving toward the north-northwest at 20 mph. Hurricane-force winds extend up to 175 miles (280 kilometers) from the storm's center.

Sandy is on track to collide with a wintry storm moving in from the west and cold air streaming down from the Arctic. Major metropolitan areas from Washington to Boston are bracing for what is expected to be a superstorm that could menace some 50 million people in the most heavily populated corridor in the nation. The wind is expected to cause more damage than usual because it's coming from the north in a region where trees are anchored against the prevailing west wind.

Across upstate New York, widespread power outages are anticipated as the megastorm brings 60 mph wind gusts and one to six inches of rain. The National Weather Service has posted high wind warnings and flood watches across the state, effective Monday morning through Tuesday.

Local government offices across upstate New York say they'll be shutting down most of their operations early as the massive storm Sandy approaches. Many city, county, town and village offices are sending non-emergency workers home early Monday afternoon, with some maintaining services like tax collections.

In New York City, many residents left low-lying flood evacuation zones, and the subway system shut down Sunday night. A storm surge of 11 feet is possible, the highest of all coastal areas being hit by Sandy. The New York Stock Exchange and other U.S. financial markets shut down for at least the day. Thousands of flights were canceled at the city's major airports.

Speeds have been reduced on the George Washington Bridge and three Staten Island crossings. The speed limit on the GWB and the Outerbridge Crrossing, the Goethals Bridge and the Bayonne Bridge are down to 35 mph. The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey says the speeds were reduced because of high winds.

Governor Andrew Cuomo announced that the Tappan Zee Bridge will close to all traffic at 4 p.m. Monday due to weather conditions.

By early Monday afternoon Gov. Andrew Cuomo said more than 71,000 New York homes and businesses were without electricity, most of them in the New York City area, hours before the projected landfall of Hurricane Sandy.Cuomo said outages are expected to be widespread and long-lasting.

The New York Stock Exchange planned a rare shutdown Monday because of Hurricane Sandy. The last time the NYSE closed down for a weather-related event was on Sept. 27, 1985, for Hurricane Gloria.

Hurricane Sandy grounded thousands of flights in the U.S. northeast Monday and upended travel plans across the globe, stranding passengers from Hong Kong to Europe. The massive storm threatens to bring a near halt to air travel for at least two days in a key region for both domestic and international flights.

The American Kennel Club is ready to provide disaster relief for evacuated pets at temporary shelters. The AKC says owners evacuating their homes should never leave their pets at home. It also advices that pets wear a collar, rabies tag and identification at all times.

Updates from CNYCentral:

Follow @MattSnowManCNY for meteorologist Matt Stevens' live coverage of Hurricane Sandy in NYC. Follow CNYCentral meteorologists @WayneStormWatch @PeteWeatherBeat and @MikeBrookins as well as @CNYCentral for updates on Sandy in Central New York. We'll also have updates on our CNYCentral Faceook Page.

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(Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.)