Sandy strengthens, nears US coast
30 October, 2012
REHOBOTH BEACH: Hurricane Sandy, one of the biggest storms ever to hit the United States, battered the densely populated East Coast, including New York and Washington, on Monday, shutting down transportation, forcing evacuations in flood-prone areas and interrupting the presidential election campaign.
Fierce winds and flooding were expected along hundreds of miles of Atlantic coast and heavy snows were forecast farther inland at higher elevations when the centre of the storm moves ashore Monday night near Atlantic City, New Jersey.
US stock markets closed for the first time since the attacks of September 11, 2001, the government in Washington shut down and school was cancelled up and down the East Coast. Nearly 700,000 customers were without power by midday and millions more could lose electricity. "This is going to be a big and powerful storm and all across the Eastern Seaboard I think everybody is taking the appropriate preparations," US President Barack Obama said at the White House.
State governors from Virginia to Massachusetts warned of the acute danger from the storm dubbed "Frankenstorm" for the 60 million residents in its path. Nine states have declared a state of emergency. Experts said economic losses from the storm could reach $20 billion.
"There will undoubtedly be some deaths that are caused by the intensity of this storm, by the floods, by the tidal surge, by the waves. The more responsibly citizens act, the fewer people will die," Maryland Governor Martin O'Malley told reporters.
The US National Hurricane Center (NHC) said the Category 1 storm had strengthened as it turned toward the coast and was moving at 18 miles per hour. It was expected to bring a "life-threatening storm surge", coastal hurricane winds and heavy snow in the Appalachian Mountains, the NHC said.
In Fairfield, a Connecticut coastal town and major commuter point into Manhattan, police cruisers blocked the main road leading to the beaches and yellow police tape cordoned off rocky side entrances.
"People are definitely not taking this seriously enough," police officer Tiffany Barrett said. "Our worst fear is something like Katrina and we can't get to people."
Some 400 kilometres to the south, several feet of water flooded streets in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware, which could be right in the target zone of the storm. Police knocked on doors on Sunday, reminding people there was a mandatory evacuation. Forecasters said Sandy was a rare, hybrid "super storm" created by an Arctic jet stream wrapping itself around a tropical storm.
The combination of those two storms would have been bad enough, but meteorologists said there was a third storm at play - a system coming down from Canada that would effectively trap the hurricane-nor'easter combo and hold it in place, amplifying the inland flooding effects.
The second-largest refinery on the East Coast, Phillips 66's 238,000 barrel per day (bpd) Bayway plant in Linden, New Jersey, was shutting down and three other plants cut output as the storm affected operations at two-thirds of the region's plants.
Obama cancelled a campaign event in Florida on Monday so he could return to Washington and monitor the US government's response to the storm. Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney canceled campaign stops on Monday night and Tuesday.
While Sandy does not pack the punch of Hurricane Katrina, which devastated New Orleans in 2005, it has been gathering strength as it approaches the US coast. It killed 66 people in the Caribbean last week before pounding US coastal areas as it moved north.
New York and other cities and towns closed their transit systems and schools, ordering mass evacuations from low-lying areas ahead of a storm surge that could reach as high as 11 feet.
By early on Monday, water was already topping the seawall in Manhattan's Battery Park City, one of the areas evacuated by Mayor Michael Bloomberg. He ordered 375,000 New Yorkers to evacuate and told those who remained to leave immediately. Airlines cancelled flights, bridges and tunnels closed, and national passenger rail operator Amtrak suspended nearly all service on the East Coast. The US government told non-emergency workers in Washington, DC, to stay home.