NEW YORK — More than 12,000 flights have been grounded as Hurricane Sandy thwarted travel up and down the US East Coast Monday with powerful winds and blinding rain that could linger for days.
That number is expected to grow as the slow-moving "Frankenstorm" churns its way inland after making expected landfall near Atlantic City, New Jersey on Monday evening.
Along the way the storm will encounter a cold front coming down from Canada that could whip up as much as three feet of snow.
Tens of thousands were stranded as the mega storm's impact on air travel was felt as far afield as Asia and Europe, ruining holiday plans, delaying business trips and likely keeping scores of parents from getting home in time to take their children out for Halloween on Wednesday.
Pablo Gomez decided to drive the 800 miles (1,300 kilometers) from New York to home in Chicago after his 6:00 am Monday flight was cancelled.
"The drive is exhausting, but they said I might not get back until Thursday," Gomez, 41, told AFP.
Gomez left Sunday evening to avoid highway closures and the oncoming storm but didn't expect to be home until late Monday afternoon.
"The roads aren't too bad, just a lot of rain," the university professor said Monday morning from Ohio.
"I wouldn't have known anything was going on if it weren't for all the electricity trucks -- the big ones -- driving the other way."
At Washington's Reagan National Airport, Italian exchange student Joelle Carota, 21, said she has been waiting 36 hours for a flight to Rochester in upstate New York and is taking it with patient resignation.
Carota slept Sunday night in a seat at the airport, plans to do the same Monday night, and said people at National are taking the delays in stride, as they know how dangerous the weather is. It is her first brush with a potentially deadly storm.
"I have always seen this kind of thing on the news. Now here I am, and it is sort of strange," Carota, who is studying English and Spanish at Nazareth College in Rochester, told AFP. "Here, it is safe. I am safe."
Three smaller coastal airports shut down completely Monday and many others -- including as far inland as Philadelphia -- may as well have, as nearly every flight was cancelled.
Some 1,305 flights were cancelled on Sunday as airlines prepared for the storm, according to the online aviation tracking service flightaware.com.
Another 7,039 were cancelled Monday, including 1,220 in Philadelphia and around 1,000 at each of New York's three airports.
A further 3,726 flights have already been cancelled for Tuesday and 298 on Wednesday.
Subway services, buses and commuter trains were shut down in New York, Philadelphia and Washington and Amtrak suspended rail services in the region.
Safety fears over the monster storm caused disruption as far away as Hong Kong and France even before the hurricane reached the US coast after barreling across parts of the Caribbean and leaving 66 people dead.
The European Organisation for the Safety of Air Navigation, Eurocontrol, said 300 of the usual 500-odd flights between Europe and the US had been cancelled, with more expected later Monday.
In Asia, Hong Kong's flagship carrier Cathay Pacific announced it was scrapping a total of eight direct flights between the southern Chinese city and New York on Monday and Tuesday.
Flights from India and Japan were also affected, as were flights from Canada, Mexico and Latin America.