"You never want to be too naive, but ultimately, it's not in our hands anyway," said Andrew Ferencsik, 31, as he purchased plywood and 2-by-4 lumber from a Home Depot in Lewes, Del.
Utility officials warned rains could saturate the ground, causing trees to topple into power lines, and told residents to prepare for several days at home without power.
President Barack Obama was monitoring the storm and working with state and locals governments to make sure they get the resources needed to prepare, administration officials said.
In North Carolina's Outer Banks, a group of about 20 people was forced to wait out the storm on Portsmouth Island, a former fishing village that is now uninhabited and accessible only by private ferry.
"We tried to get off the island and the ferry service shut down on us," said Bill Rowley, 49, of Rocky Mount, N.C.
Rowley said he could see 15-foot seas breaking over the island's dunes, enough to bring water to the island's interior.
"We'll be inundated and it'll probably be worse tomorrow," he said.
In New Jersey, hundreds of coastal residents started moving inland. Christie's emergency declaration will force the shutdown of Atlantic City's 12 casinos for only the fourth time in the 34-year history of legalized gambling here. City officials said they would begin evacuating the gambling hub's 30,000 residents at noon Sunday, busing them to mainland shelters and schools.
The storm also forced the presidential campaign to juggle schedules. Romney scrapped plans to campaign Sunday in Virginia and switched his schedule for the day to Ohio. First lady Michelle Obama canceled an appearance in New Hampshire for Tuesday, and Obama moved a planned Monday departure for Florida to Sunday night to beat the storm. He also canceled appearances in Northern Virginia on Monday and Colorado on Tuesday.
Breed reported from Raleigh, N.C. Contributing to this report were AP Science Writer Seth Borenstein in Washington; Emery Dalesio in Kill Devil Hills, N.C.; Karen Matthews and Samantha Bomkamp in New York; Randall Chase in Lewes, Del.; and Nancy Benac in Washington.