National weather forecasters’ most dire predictions edged closer this morning, as Hurricane Sandy strengthened and neared landfall in the Mid-Atlantic, with hundreds of thousands of Americans fleeing to higher ground. The Edison Electric Institute (EEI) — the association of U.S. shareholder-owned electric companies — and its member companies have been coordinating with federal and local government officials and have strongly urged customers to put safety first, with utility line workers and other frontline personnel staged in key locations, prepared to respond once conditions are safe.

“EEI is working with the Federal government, including FEMA and the Department of Energy and first responders to coordinate response,” said EEI Senior Vice President Brian Wolff. “EEI’s member companies in Sandy’s path have mobilized thousands of storm and field personnel, and have called upon extra workers and resources from all across the country and as far away as Canada and Mexico, through the industry’s Mutual Assistance Network. We strongly urge customers to put safety first prepare for the possibility of extended outages due to the enormity of Hurricane Sandy, which is on track to become a megastorm, just as predicted.”

A Killer Storm’

Federal and state officials warned that due to the slow-moving nature of Hurricane Sandy— estimated at more than 1,000 miles across moving at about 15 mph—could take two or more days to clear an area, delaying much of the damage assessment necessary before power restoration efforts could begin. The storm surge—in excess of 12 feet in some areas—could leave one out of every six Americans in the storm’s path without power, as many as 10 million people.

Forecasters predict winds of 30 to 50 miles per hour—sustained for up to 48 hours—with gusts of 75 to 90 miles per hour. The combination of steady high winds and rain-drenched soil make trees more susceptible to falling, which can wreak havoc on power lines and other electrical equipment.

The hurricane-force winds also are spinning up the surf, producing 20-foot waves off the Mid-Atlantic coastline, and a massive 41-foot wave, which has been recorded near Cape Hatteras. Heavy surf and large waves also are predicted for areas of the Great Lakes if Sandy turns northwest as expected.

Emergency Declarations, Major Shutdowns

President Obama signed emergency declarations for New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Rhode Island, and the District of Columbia, allowing these states and the nation’s capital to request federal funds in advance to help pay their massive recovery costs.As many as 10 states along the eastern seaboard, including Virginia, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, North Carolina, Delaware, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, and Connecticut, as well as Washington, D.C., themselves declared states of emergency before Sandy hit land.

As of Sunday evening, airlines had cancelled more than 6,000 flights, and New York, Pennsylvania and the District of Columbia announced public transit systems would be shut down. Amtrak cancelled service in the northeast.

The federal government is closed, along with school systems up and down the eastern seaboard. Washington, DC and New York City has shut down their subway systems and the New York Stock Exchange also is closed due to Hurricane Sandy—the first time the N.Y.S.E. has closed trading for weather reasons since 1985.

Customer Resources

The EEI Storm Center site continues to be updated with safety tips, links to customers’ own electricity providers’ outage centers, real-time information and updates on storm preparation and restoration progress. EEI also encourages utility customers to follow EEI’s social media sites Twitter and Facebook.

Just as the power companies prepare for severe weather and the possibility of power outages, EEI wants to remind power customers of the importance of preparing for storms and other emergency situations—Be Safe, Be Informed.

Severe Weather and Reliability

In addition to customer safety, the electric power industry’s top priority is to provide a reliable supply of on-demand power. Discover how the industry responds to outages caused by severe weather: