East Coast prepares for Hurricane Sandy

As another boat waits its turn, a 50-ton lift raises Fancy Nancy, a 40-foot commercial fishing boat, out of the Maurice River at Yank Marine Services marina Saturday, Oct. 27, 2012, in Dorchester, N.J., in preparation for Hurricane Sandy. From the lowest lying areas of the Jersey Shore, where residents were already being encouraged to leave, to the state's northern highlands, where sandbags were being filled and cars moved into parking lots on high ground, New Jersey began preparing in earnest for Sandy.
AP Photo/Mel Evans

Last Updated 11:02 a.m. ET

(CBS/AP) After causing heavy damage and at least 40 deaths in the Caribbean, Hurricane Sandy is headed toward making landfall on the East Coast by Tuesday. No one can be certain how powerful it will become, but the signs are ominous.

Meteorologist and CBS News hurricane analyst David Bernard of CBS Station WFOR says the storm weakened slightly overnight to a tropical storm, but was upgraded this morning to a hurricane packing 75 mph winds.

As of late Saturday morning tropical storm-force winds are already near the coast of North Carolina.

(To watch meteorologist David Bernard explain the path of Hurricane Sandy click on the video player below.)

Sandy is expected to make landfall early Tuesday near the Delaware coast, then hit two winter weather systems as it moves inland, creating a hybrid monster storm that could bring nearly a foot of rain, high winds and up to 2 feet of snow.

Experts said the storm could be wider and stronger than Irene, which caused more than $15 billion in damage, and could rival the worst East Coast storm on record.

Bernard says the storm's massive wind field means tropical storm-force winds when it makes landfall spreads through all of New England and the Mid-Atlantic states - the most densely-populated part of the country.

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The message up and down the Eastern seaboard couldn't be clearer: Be prepared for days without electricity, as a storm that could be one for the history books.

At 11 a.m. ET Hurricane Sandy was about 190 miles north of Great Abaco Island in the Bahamas and 355 miles southeast of Charleston, S.C., moving at 9 mph. Maximum sustained winds are 75 mph.

Tropical storm warnings remain in effect for parts of coastal North and South Carolina and the Bahamas. Tropical storm watches were issued for coastal Georgia and Bermuda.

Tropical storm warnings for parts of Florida's East Coast have been discontinued.

Sandy was projected to hit the Atlantic Coast early Tuesday. As it turns back to the north and northwest and merges with colder air from a winter system, West Virginia and further west into eastern Ohio and southern Pennsylvania are expected to get snow. Forecasters were looking at the Delaware shore as the spot the storm will turn inland, bringing 10 inches of rain and extreme storm surges, said Louis Uccellini, environmental prediction director for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Up to 2 feet of snow was predicted to fall on West Virginia, with lighter snow in parts of Ohio and Pennsylvania. A wide swath of the East, measuring several hundreds of miles, will get persistent gale-force 50 mph winds, with some areas closer to storm landfall getting closer to 70 mph, said James Franklin, forecast chief for the National Hurricane Center in Miami.

Jersey Shore 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.

On the boardwalk in Ocean City, Md., some business owners are already boarding up and heading out of town.

How worried is business owner Bill Purnell? "On a 10-point scale, this is a nine."