PHILADELPHIA Good luck buying lanterns, generators, propane, or - if you are really unprepared - rain boots and batteries in areas in the path of Hurricane Sandy as it bears down on the U.S. East Coast.
The approach of the gigantic storm, which is expected to come ashore on Monday night set off a weekend scramble for supplies from Virginia to New England, causing long lines at gas stations, bare shelves at hardware and home-supply shops, and a run on bread, bottled water and canned foods.
"It's been crazy. We're the only one open who still has gas," said Karen Tripodi, a customer service representative at Cumberland Farms, a gas station and market in Newington, Connecticut. "They're coming in for propane, ice, water, milk and cigarettes."
Forecasters described the "super storm" as a rare hybrid created by an Arctic jet stream wrapping itself around a tropical storm, possibly dumping up to 12 inches of rain in some areas, as well as heavy snowfall inland.
With big population centers including New York, Philadelphia, Washington, Baltimore and Boston in the storm's path, city and state officials held a stream of news conferences to announce mass transit shutdowns, school closures and tips for riding out the storm.
Many took the warnings to heart. At a Lowe's store in Bowie, Maryland, the hot-selling items included generators, batteries, sandbags, sand, water, emergency radios, tarps, dry ice, lanterns, plywood, gas cans, propane, rain boots and rain suits.
Manager Eric Williams said, "It seems to be a very busy day, but controlled."
At Cosey Beach, Connecticut, which was under an evacuation order, homeowners scrambled to pack and board up windows.
"I can't imagine what kind of damage this will do," said Melissa Stone as she helped her father prepare to leave his home. "It makes me sick, I can't even think about it."
FIFTY MILLION IN STORM'S PATH
On its current projected track, Sandy is most likely to make landfall in the New York/New Jersey area and head inland toward Philadelphia, forecasters said. Many of the 50 million people in the storm's path have rushed to prepare.
Authorities expect widespread power outages, and many residents bought generators in case power lines were brought down. Flashlights and batteries also were in demand.
The storm is expected to play havoc with road, rail and air transportation. New York City's subway, bus and train service will be suspended on Sunday evening. Only once before have transportation officials taken such a step -- when Hurricane Irene slammed the city in 2011.
Some people thought the precautions a little much.
While Mayor Bloomberg ordered the evacuation of some low-lying areas of New York City that are home to around 375,000 people, some refused to budge.
"We're staying put," said Dr. Gerry Casey, an emergency room doctor at Kings County hospital in Queens who lives one block from the beach in Belle Harbor, within the evacuation zone.
He said he wanted to keep an eye on his house and had 10 sandbags ready and a pile of sand and empty bags in his basement. "If I'm here and it's still rising, I could still board up the windows."
Others were less sanguine, including Loretta Henke, 65, a retired teacher waiting at New York's Pennsylvania Station to catch one of the last trains heading out to Long Island.
"This may be foolish, but I'm going out to my daughter's house," she said, adding that she was worried that if she waited any longer she would not be able to get out of Manhattan in time for Halloween. "My daughter said, 'Just come tonight,' and I want to be with family."
E.J. Shindledecker, the owner of Sharky's restaurant in Dewey Beach, Delaware, said he was puzzled by the number of visitors wandering about on Sunday, when Rehoboth planned to host its popular Sea Witch Festival. It was later canceled.
"I see families with little kids walking up and down the street in front of the restaurant and I'm thinking, 'why are you here?'" said Shindledecker. "I didn't see that much traffic going north and I'm thinking 'You got to get out of here.'"
(Additional reporting by Daniel Lovering in Massachusetts, Barbara Goldberg in New Jersey, Mary Ellen Godin in Connecticut, Medina Roshan in Maryland and Tom Hals in Pennsylvania; Writing by David Bailey; Editing by Paul Thomasch and David Brunnstrom)