Hurricane Sandy has strengthened to nearly 1,000 miles wide with deadly winds in excess of 85 miles per hour – as hundreds of thousands of residents scrambled to higher ground, public transport systems shut down and thousands of flights across the country were cancelled.
The New Jersey shore is expected to take the brunt of the massive weather front – which forecasters said could be the largest in U.S. history – as Sandy hits near Atlantic City around 2am on Tuesday and churns north, with 50 million people in its path.
The worst of the Category 1 storm, which experts say is accelerating as it moves northwestward, is expected to bring a ‘life-threatening’ surge of seawater up to 11 feet high, coastal hurricane winds and a barrage of heavy snow in the Appalachian Mountains.
Nine U.S. states have declared states of emergency with the National Guard poised to swoop in, and President Obama has warned the nation to brace itself.
‘This is a serious and big storm,’ Mr Obama said after a briefing at the federal government’s storm response center in Washington. ‘We don’t yet know where it’s going to hit, where we’re going to see the biggest impacts.’
Sandy has already killed 66 people in the Caribbean before pounding U.S. coastal areas with rain and triggering snow falls on higher ground.
Winds increased to a maximum of 85mph, up from 75mph three hours earlier, the National Hurricane Center said in its 5am EST report. Landfall is expected between late Monday and early Tuesday, with Google providing a tracking map to show the storm’s progress.
Forecasters said Sandy, dubbed ‘Frankenstorm’, could surge to a ‘super storm’ as it joins an Arctic jet stream, sparking flash floods and snow storms – and making it unlike anything seen over the eastern United States in decades.
‘The last time we saw anything like this was never,’ Connecticut Governor Dannel Malloy said on Sunday. ‘I don’t know how to say it any clearer than that it is the largest threat to human life our state has experienced in anyone’s lifetime.’
New Jersey Governor Chris Christie added: ‘Don’t be stupid. Get out!’
New York and other cities and towns have closed their transit systems and ordered mass evacuations from low-lying areas ahead of the storm surge.
Classes were cancelled on Monday for more than two million public school students in New York, Philadelphia, Boston and Baltimore, while universities and government offices in states including Washington and New Jersey were shut down.
In Oak Orchard, Delaware, rescue efforts by the National Guard and local authorities were already underway for residents who had failed to heed the mandatory evacuation issued over the weekend.
Across Norfolk, Virginia, residents were knee-deep in floodwaters as they travelled to work. In the southeast of the state, tides are expected to run between five and eight feet above normal.
Floodwaters were also seeping into New York, with homes in Gilgo, Long Island becoming quickly submerged.
In Boone, North Carolina, snow began falling at 8am; the Appalachian mountain town is expected to suffer a miserable few days with snow, rain and temperatures struggling to get out of the 30s. Up to eight inches of snow is expected but, in places of higher elevation, there may be as many as 12.
All U.S. stock markets will be closed on Monday and possibly Tuesday, the operator of the New York Stock Exchange said late on Sunday, reversing an earlier plan that would have kept electronic trading going on Monday.
Sandy forced President Obama and Mitt Romney to cancel some campaign stops and fuelled concern it could disrupt early voting – encouraged by the candidates this year more than ever – before the November 6 election.
The United Nations, Broadway theaters, New Jersey casinos, schools up and down the Eastern Seaboard, and myriad corporate events were also being shut down on Monday.
Residents along the New Jersey coast were warned they may not survive Hurricane Sandy if they do not evacuate low-lying areas.
The National Weather Service issued the stark warning last night as the massive weather front surged closer to the East Coast.
A statement read: ‘If you are reluctant [to evacuate], think about your loved ones…think about the rescue/recovery teams who will rescue you if you are injured or recover your remains if you do not survive.’
About 50 million people from the Mid-Atlantic to Canada are in the path of the 1,000-mile-wide monster, which is expected to topple trees, damage buildings, cause power outages and trigger heavy flooding.
Many workers planned to stay home on Monday, while thousands of flights into and out of the U.S. northeast were grounded on as airports closed, stranding passengers from Hong Kong to Europe.
The massive storm threatens to bring a near halt to air travel for at least two days in a key region for both domestic and international flights.
The storm is also expected to inflict power outages along the east coast, with officials already expressing fears that homes and businesses could be without power for days. ‘We could be talking about weeks,’ Connecticut Governor Dannel Malloy warned.
Officials told residents to head for higher ground as evacuations were ordered on the East Coast including a mandatory one for New York City which saw Mayor Bloomberg advise 375,000 people to leave low-lying areas.
Buses were no longer running and flights in and out of the city cancelled. More than 7,000 flights have been cancelled so far – already leaving a backlog of tens of thousands.
The New York subway closed at 7pm on Sunday for only the second time in history, meaning that almost 12million people will be prevented from taking their usual route to work.
The MTA said the duration of the service suspension is ‘unknown’ and that ‘service will be restored only when it is safe to do so, after careful inspections of all equipment and tracks.’
Transport officials warned: ‘Even with minimal damage this is expected to be a lengthy process.’
The New York Stock Exchange said on Sunday it is putting in place contingency plans and will announce later when the trading floor will reopen. It is the first time in 27 years the NYSE has been forced to close due to the weather.
A blizzard led to a late start and an early close on January 8, 1996. The NYSE shut down on March 27, 1985 for Hurricane Gloria. Since the Great Depression, the longest suspension in trading at the NYSE occurred after 9/11 when the exchange closed for four days.
The sheer size of the storm meant its effects would be felt from the mid-Atlantic states to New England. Officials issued warnings meant to reduce the risk of mass casualties as the National Guard was deployed to New York City.
All along the U.S. coast worried residents packed into stores, buying generators, candles, food and other supplies in anticipation of power outages.
‘They’re freaking out,’ said Joe Dautel, a clerk at a hardware store in Glenside, Pennsylvania. ‘I’m selling people four, five, six packs of batteries – when I had them.’
Mark Palazzolo, who has boarded up his bait-and-tackle shop in Point Pleasant Beach, N.J with the same wood he used in past storms, crossing out the names of Hurricanes Isaac and Irene, said: ‘I think this one’s going to do us in.
‘I got a call from a friend of mine from Florida last night who said, “Mark, get out! If it’s not the storm, it’ll be the aftermath. People are going to be fighting in the streets over gasoline and food.”‘
Obama met with federal emergency officials for an update on the Category 1 storm’s path and the danger it poses to the Mid-Atlantic and New England.
‘My main message to everybody involved is that we have to take this seriously,’ said Obama. He urged people to ‘listen to your local officials.’
The President said emergency officials were confident that staging for the storm was in place.
Obama traveled the nearly three miles from the White House to the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s headquarters in his motorcade. As part of the briefing, the president also met with FEMA workers and thanked them.
‘My message to the governors as well as to the mayors is anything they need, we will be there, and we will cut through red tape.
‘We are not going to get bogged down with a lot of rules,’ he said. ‘We want to make sure we are anticipating and leaning forward into making sure that we have the best possible response to what is going to be a big and messy system.’
The storm surge could be higher than the Manhattan flood walls and pour into subway tunnels.
Mayor Bloomberg said he ordered an evacuation of the low-lying areas along the edges of the city including parts of lower Manhattan, sections of Brooklyn and Staten Island, and the Rockaways in Queens.
He said 72 evacuation centres had been created around the city and he also ordered the closure of schools.
Mayor Bloomberg said: ‘If you don’t evacuate, you are not only endangering your life, you are also endangering the lives of the first responders who are going in to rescue you,’ he said at a news conference Sunday. ‘This is a serious and dangerous storm.’
He added that those who didn’t leave wouldn’t be arrested. New York City police officers went door-to-door this evening to take down the names of those who had decided not to leave.
To help direct any response to the damage caused by Sandy, Governor Andrew Cuomo has directed the New York Army and Air National Guard to mobilize in response to Hurricane Sandy.
Cuomo said the Guard will deploy up to 1,175 troops starting on Sunday. They’ll help local authorities respond to storm damage in New York City, Long Island, the Hudson Valley and the Southern Tier.
On Sunday, 200 New York Army National Guard soldiers were deployed to New York City. By 6pm Monday, Cuomo said 250 soldiers and 150 airmen would be in place on Long Island.
Another 200 soldiers will go on duty Monday at armories in Binghamton, Walton, and Horseheads in the Southern Tier. Statewide, another 150 soldiers and airmen will be mobilized to provide command and control and logistical support.
If forecasts hold, and especially if the storm surge coincides with high tide, the effects should be much more severe for the city said Klaus Jacob, a Columbia University researcher who has advised the city on coastal risks.
While the storm may not be the worst-case scenario, Jacob said he expected the subway system, as well as underground electrical systems and neighborhoods in Lower Manhattan, to be at least partially flooded.
Governor Cuomo said: ‘The transportation system is the lifeblood of the New York City region, and suspending all service is not a step I take lightly.
‘But keeping New Yorkers safe is the first priority, and the best way to do that is to make sure they are out of harm’s way before gale-force winds can start wreaking havoc on trains and buses.’
The service is expected to resume operations about 12 hours after the storm ends, officials said at the news conference – which would put services on track to resume for Tuesday afternoon.
The Atlantic City Rail Line also suspended operations at 4pm Sunday due to the rapidly deteriorating weather conditions and the continued evacuation of Atlantic City.
The measures announced in New York City come as governors from North Carolina to Connecticut declared states of emergency ahead of Sandy’s arrival
As Hurricane Sandy trekked north from the Caribbean to meet two other powerful winter storms, experts said it didn’t matter how strong the storm was when it hit land.
‘This storm that is going to be impacting the mid-Atlantic and parts of the Northeast…is going to be destructive, historic, and unfortunately life threatening,’ AccuWeather’s Bernie Rayno said to ABC News.
Insurers also prepared for the storm’s arrival, activating claims teams, staging adjusters near the locations most likely to be affected and generally getting ready to pay for a potentially huge volume of losses.
At high tide, it could bring a surge of seawater up to 11 feet above ground level to Long Island Sound and New York Harbor, forecasters said.
‘Given the large wind field associated with Sandy, elevated water levels could span multiple tide cycles, resulting in repeated and extended periods of coastal and bayside flooding,’ the forecasters said.
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who was criticised for not interrupting a vacation in Florida while a snowstorm pummeled the state in 2010, broke off campaigning for Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney in North Carolina on Friday to return home.
‘I can be as cynical as anyone,’ said Christie, who declared a state of emergency Saturday. ‘But when the storm comes, if it’s as bad as they’re predicting, you’re going to wish you weren’t as cynical as you otherwise might have been.’
‘Don’t be stupid. Get out and go to higher, safer ground,’ New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie said on Sunday. ‘Let’s get to work on this. We know how to do this. We’ve been through this before.’
Eighty-five-year-old former sailor Ray Leonard agreed. And he knows to heed warnings.
Leonard and two crewmates in his 32-foot sailboat, Satori, rode out 1991’s infamous ‘perfect storm,’ made famous by the Sebastian Junger best-selling book of the same name, before being plucked from the Atlantic off Martha’s Vineyard, Mass., by a Coast Guard helicopter.
‘Don’t be rash,’ Leonard said Saturday from his home in Fort Myers, Fla. ‘Because if this does hit, you’re going to lose all those little things you’ve spent the last 20 years feeling good about.’
Sandy killed at least 66 people as it made its way through the Caribbean islands, including 51 in Haiti, mostly from flash flooding and mudslides, according to authorities.
The approaching storm forced a change of plans for both presidential candidates ahead of the November 6 election.
Sandy weakened briefly to a tropical storm Saturday but was soon back up to Category 1 strength, packing 75 mph winds. It was about 260 miles (420 kilometers) south-southeast of Cape Hatteras, N.C., and moving northeast at 13 mph as of 5am Sunday, according to the National Hurricane Center in Miami.
Source: THE DAILY MAIL