NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) -- President Barack Obama said Hurricane Sandy was a storm that will affect millions of people and urged Americans to heed warnings from state and local officials.
"This is going to be a big and powerful storm," Obama said at a news conference Monday. "The most important message that I have for the public right now is please listen to what your state and local officials are saying. If they tell you evacuate, you need to evacuate."
WEB EXTRA: Track Outages Here
As of 5:00 pm., more than 750,000 Tri-State Area homes were without power. The majority of the outages reported at this hour - more than 500,000 - are in New Jersey and on Long Island.
Obama declared emergencies in Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island, New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania, authorizing federal relief work to begin well ahead of time.
"We have prepositioned assets so that FEMA personnel are working closely with state and local governments. We're making sure that food and water and emergency generation is available for those communities that are going to be hardest hit," Obama said.
He stressed repeatedly the dangers posed by the storm and said its effects would not dissipate quickly.
"The public should anticipate that there are going to be a lot of power outages," Obama said. "Transportation is going to be tied up for a long time. --- We anticipate that there are going to be a lot of trees down, a lot of water."
Forecasters said Hurricane Sandy should make landfall early Monday evening in southern New Jersey.
The National Hurricane Center said the storm's top sustained winds were holding at near 90 mph, with higher gusts.
Its projected path puts New York City and Long Island in the danger zone for a huge surge of seawater made more fearsome by high tides and a full moon.
A coastal flood warning is in effect until 3 p.m. Tuesday along the New York Harbor, the Newark Bay and the Arthur kill as well as the tidally affected portions of the Hackensack and Passaic rivers, Long Island Sound, the southern and eastern shores of Long Island and tidally affected portions of the Hudson and Connecticut rivers.
A flood watch is in effect for all of southern Connecticut, northeast New Jersey and southeast New York through Tuesday afternoon.
A high wind warning is in effect until 6 p.m. Tuesday for New York City, northeast New Jersey, southern Westchester and western Long Island.
In New York City, Mayor Michael Bloomberg said "conditions are deteriorating very rapidly" as Sandy approaches.
By midday Monday, water from the Hudson River could be seen pouring over the sea wall along the West Side Promenade in the Battery Park. Parts of Red Hook, Brooklyn and Queens were also flooded.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo warned that wind gusts of up to 90 mph are possible in the New York City area.
"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."
Mass transit in New York City has been shut down, including all subway, Metro-North, Long Island Rail Road, NJ TRANSIT and bus service.
Cuomo also ordered the closure of the Holland and Brooklyn-Battery tunnels.
On Long Island, low-lying areas of Nassau and Suffolk County are under mandatory evacuation orders where several communities have already been inundated with flooding.
In New Jersey, Gov. Chris Christie said anyone left on the barrier islands should get off if they can before conditions get even worse.
"This is not a time to be a show-off," he said. "This is not a time to be stupid."
Conn. Gov. Dannel Malloy ordered the closure of all state highways across the state in anticipation of Sandy's arrival.
"This is the most catastrophic event that we have faced and been able to plan for in any of our lifetimes and we continue to do everything in our power to make sure that we're ready and that our citizens are fully cognizant of what they should be doing," Malloy said.
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