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Hurricane Sandy grounds flights in Boston, NYC, Washington DC (+video)

Hurricane Sandy's high winds has forced the cancellation of some 7,500 flights on Sunday and Monday in East Coast cities. Hurricane Sandy is now 300 miles from land but 1,000 miles across.

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"I don't know what number I am, I could be 300. They don't even tell you. They just say: Yeah, it's a pretty big waiting list," said Shrem, throwing up his hands.

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Shrem, whose company produces signed sports memorabilia, was one of a handful of travelers trying to rebook their flights at Hong Kong's airport. Cathay urged people whose flights had been canceled not to come to the airport. In the meantime, he'll have to fork out $400 a night to continue staying at a nearby hotel. The airline won't pay for accommodation for stranded passengers if delays are weather related.

"It's insane. It's crazy. It's going to wind up costing me thousands and thousands of dollars by being stranded here because of the weather," Shrem said.

Sandy, a Category 1 hurricane with sustained winds of 75 mph (120 kph) as of early Monday, was blamed for 65 deaths in the Caribbean before it began churning up the Eastern Seaboard. Forecasters say the hurricane is about 425 miles (685 kilometers) southeast of New York City and the center of the storm is expected to be near the mid-Atlantic coast on Monday night, colliding with a wintry storm moving in from the west and cold air streaming down from the Arctic. Experts say the rare hybrid storm that results will cause havoc over 800 miles from the East Coast to the Great Lakes.

At New York's LaGuardia on Sunday, crowds filled the American Airlines terminal near midday, with families sitting on the floor waiting for a flight out — any flight out. A few travelers were sitting at a bar having a beer, watching football. Others nervously paced before flight information boards showing canceled flights, hoping their flight wouldn't be added to that list. It was almost double the normal crowd. Travelers were calm, but anxious.

The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which runs five airports in the area, said it expects all carriers to cease operations Sunday night. It advised passengers to check with their carriers before heading to the airport.

Passengers on Sunday were reporting multi-hour wait times at airline call centers.

Eileen Merberg, 50, was booked on a United flight from her home in Rochester, N.Y. to New Orleans, connecting at Washington D.C.'s Dulles airport.

First, the airline sent her an automated message via email saying that her Washington flight was canceled and that she had been rebooked on a flight through Newark. About an hour later that flight was canceled. Another email informed her she was rebooked through Chicago.

By that point, she already had told the higher education conference that she was scheduled to speak at that she wouldn't be coming. She tried to cancel her flight but United's phone lines were jammed. First she waited 62 minutes before her phone battery died. After recharging, she then spent 45 minutes on hold before a recording told her it would be at least another hour before a customer service employee would be available.

"Then I hung up," Merberg said.

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