By Sunday morning, officials in Haiti said the storm was responsible for 65 deaths, as Sandy blew through the Bahamas and traveled north over the Atlantic Ocean, several hundred miles southeast of Charleston, S.C.
Two computer tracking systems remained in agreement that the hurricane would arrive on shore between the Delmarva Peninsula and Rhode Island. But Sandy’s reach will extend as far as 450 miles from its core, which prompted at least one governor, Chris Christie of New Jersey, to order evacuations of coastal areas and the state’s casinos.
The impending storm disrupted the rhythms of an otherwise warm fall weekend, as utility crews up and down the East Coast worked overtime to prepare, and hordes of anxious shoppers crowded into supermarkets and supply stores.
Even the presidential campaigns were touched. President Obama switched travel plans so he could leave Washington on Sunday before the storm begins and reach rallies in Florida and Ohio. Instead of hosting three events in Virginia on Sunday, Republican Mitt Romney’s campaign said the candidate would fly to Ohio.
Federal officials said that they expected the storm to create damaging flood and wind conditions across a vast and densely populated portion of the United States, from Virginia to New England, and as far west as the Great Lakes.
“We need to make sure people understand that this is going to go well inland,” Craig Fugate, the administrator for the Federal Emergency Management Agency, said in a conference call with reporters. “This is not a coastal threat alone.”
FEMA officials said they were uncertain which areas would be the most ravaged. The hurricane itself is expected to lose intensity before it merges with a separate storm system in the northeast.
Yet Sandy’s breadth makes its precise path almost irrelevant.
State and federal officials, Fugate said, are planning for several treacherous days throughout the Mid-Atlantic states, probably beginning Monday and perhaps extending to Thursday. Forecasters expect flash flooding from as much as 8 inches of rain. They are preparing for as much as two feet of snow in West Virginia, Virginia and North Carolina mountains.
In the Washington region, Jason Samenow, a meteorologist for The Washington Post’s Capital Weather Gang, predicted the worst of the storm to begin Monday, bringing as much as six inches of rain and causing wind gusts of as high as 60 mph.
D.C. Mayor Vincent C. Gray and the governors of Maryland and Virginia, as well as officials in several localities in the region, already have declared states of emergency.