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Jersey Central Power & Light, which was criticized for its response to Irene, notified employees to be ready for extended shifts. In Pennsylvania, PPL Corp. spokesman Michael Wood said, “We’re in a much better place this year.”

New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg on Thursday said the city was striking a tone of calm preparedness.

“What we are doing is we are taking the kind of precautions you should expect us to do, and I don’t think anyone should panic,” Bloomberg said. The city has opened an emergency situation room and activated its coastal storm plan.

Some have compared the tempest to the so-called Perfect Storm that struck off the coast of New England in 1991, but that one hit a less populated area. Nor is this one like last year’s Halloween storm, which was merely an early snowfall.

“The Perfect Storm only did $200 million of damage and I’m thinking a billion” this time, Masters said. “Yeah, it will be worse.”

As it made its way across the Caribbean, Sandy was blamed for more than 20 deaths. The 18th named storm of the Atlantic hurricane season hit the Bahamas after cutting across Cuba, where it tore roofs off homes and damaged fragile coffee and tomato crops.

Norje Pupo, a 66-year-old retiree in Holguin, was helping his son clean up early Thursday after an enormous tree toppled in his garden.

“The hurricane really hit us hard,” he said. “As you can see, we were very affected. The houses are not poorly made here, but some may have been damaged.”

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Associated Press writers Tony Winton in Miami, Fernando Gonzalez in Cuba, Ken Thomas on Air Force One, Michael Rubinkam in Harrisburg, Pa., and Karen Matthews in New York contributed to this report.