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“Frankenstorm” menaces East Coast | UPDATED!

Sandy, a massive hurricane churning in the Atlantic Ocean off the East Coast, is merging today with a Canadian cold front and a classic nor’easter to create what weather forecasters are dubbing the “Frankenstorm.”

The monster storm is currently a Category 1 hurricane with 90 mph winds, and its vastness sprawling over 900 miles will impact the entire East Coast and spread as far west as Kentucky, Ohio and Michigan. More than 60 million Americans are in the storm's path.

Sandy is expected to slam into the Jersey Shore today, but the storm is already creating headaches. The mayor of Atlantic City, which closed its casinos on Sunday, said his city was already under water. Major flooding is also reported in Ocean City, Md.

The eye of the storm is targeting the area near Cape May, on the southern end of New Jersey, a lovely little city noted for its Victorian cottages and popular with the LGBT community. Cape May is where the massive Delaware Bay meets the Atlantic Ocean, and its motto is "the nation's oldest seashore resort."

Forecasters are warning that the storm surge may be record-setting, causing widespread damage and eroding beaches. High winds, heavy rains, flooding, power loss and other damage are expected. And as the storm system moves inland, snow and possibly a blizzard could pose even more danger to mountainous areas of West Virginia, Tennessee, North Carolina and Pennsylvania.

Brian Norcross, a hurricane specialist, said this morning on The Weather Channel that Sandy has strengthened and will be worse than previously believed.

President Barack Obama, who went to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) on Sunday for a briefing, declared a state of emergency in states that are in Sandy’s path.

“You need to take this seriously,” Obama warned Americans living along the East Coast.

Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Virginia, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Massachusetts and the District of Columbia are expecting the worst today through Wednesday.

Sandy has already passed Florida, Georgia, South Carolina and most of North Carolina, which have already experienced erosion, flooding and other weather-related problems.

Today, the famed tall ship HMS Bounty sank off the coast of North Carolina. The Coast Guard rescued 14 passengers, and were searching for two people who were swept overboard.

Dozens of people have died in the killer storm as it roared over Haiti, Cuba and other Caribbean islands.

More than 60 million people living in the densely populated East Coast are battening down the hatches ahead of the storm. Transportation is limited throughout the region, with airlines canceling flights, cities shutting down subways and buses, and Amtrak halting trains in the Northeast Corridor.

Schools are closed today throughout the East Coast, and many campuses are serving as shelters. Most are expected to be closed on Tuesday as well.

New York City has ordered the evacuation of anyone living in low-level areas of Manhattan, Brooklyn and Queens. Wall Street is shutting down today for the first weather-related closing in 27 years.

Long Island is fearful of storm surge from all sides, and the gay paradise of Fire Island was evacuated on Sunday.

FEMA urged residents to be prepared, and made helpful suggestions on its blog.

Obama sent out a mass mailing urging Americans in harm's way to be prepared and sought support for Red Cross:

This is a serious storm, but we are going to do what it takes to keep people safe and secure, and make sure the communities affected get the assistance they need. FEMA is working with state and local governments to respond effectively. We all owe a debt of thanks to the first responders who will be dealing with the immediate impact of the storm.

If you live in the storm's path, please listen to state and local authorities about where and how to take shelter and stay safe -- and encourage your friends and family to do the same. If you are asked to evacuate, please take that seriously.

For more information on how to prepare for this storm, visit Ready.gov.

And if you'd like to find out how to support relief efforts where they're needed most, please visit the Red Cross or your local relief organization:

Michelle and I are keeping everyone in the affected areas in our thoughts and prayers. Be safe.