Hurricane Sandy strengthens as it turns toward US coast
NEW YORK: Hurricane Sandy strengthened as it turned toward the US East Coast on Monday, bringing major cities from New York to Washington to a standstill amid warnings of life-threatening storm surges.
Sandy’s maximum sustained winds intensified to 85 miles per hour (140 kilometers per hour) overnight and at 1200 GMT its eye was located 260 miles southeast of the evacuated gambling haven of Atlantic City, New Jersey.
“One of the biggest storms of our lifetimes is unfolding right now,” said anchor Kelly Cass as The Weather Channel began its fourth day of nonstop coverage.
The weather disrupted the US election campaign, with President Barack Obama canceling an appearance in the battleground state of Florida, returning instead to the White House to steer a huge government relief effort.
With just eight days until the election, both Democrat Obama and Republican rival Mitt Romney are conscious of the need to stay on top of public sentiment regarding the storm, given the memory of Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
The handling of Katrina, which devastated New Orleans, by then president George W. Bush was widely seen as bungled and the failure of authorities in the ensuing emergency response tainted his presidency.
Obama ditched plans to appear with ex-president Bill Clinton in Orlando, as families faced the prospect of damage from snapping trees, severe flooding and power outages, including in some key swing states such as Virginia.
Forecasters warned that New York Harbor and the Long Island Sound could see seawater surges of up to 11 feet (more than three meters) above normal levels, coinciding with high tides due to the full moon.
All public schools in New York and Washington were closed and workers stayed at home as a massive public transport shutdown left the streets quiet ahead of the storm’s anticipated landfall later Monday or early Tuesday.
The 16-person crew of HMS Bounty, a replica of the three-mast vessel on which a famous mutiny took place in 1789, were forced to abandoned ship after it started to take on water.
The sailors donned cold-water survival suits and life jackets before launching in two 25-man lifeboats with canopies after getting caught up in stormy waters 90 miles (144 kilometers) southeast of Hatteras, North Carolina.
Fourteen of the crew were hoisted to safety but two were still missing, the coastguard said.
Governors have declared states of emergency in Connecticut, Delaware, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Vermont, Virginia as well as in the US capital.
New York authorities ordered the evacuation Sunday of 375,000 people from low-lying coastal areas, while Amtrak suspended all bus and train services up and down the coast. Subway services, buses and commuter trains were also shut down in New York, Philadelphia and Washington.
And the New York Stock Exchange, Nasdaq and the futures markets in Chicago were closed on Monday, and may stay closed on Tuesday.
Almost 9,000 flights were cancelled so far as a result of Hurricane Sandy, according to the information service flightaware.com.
Obama has already signed emergency declarations to free up federal disaster funds for New York state, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Maryland, the District of Columbia, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Rhode Island.
As some defiant New Yorkers stocked up on beer and laughed off evacuation orders saying they intended to ride out the storm, the National Weather Service office in neighboring New Jersey pulled no punches.
“If you are reluctant to evacuate, and you know someone who rode out the ‘62 storm on the Barrier Islands, ask them if they could do it again,” a bulletin said, referring to the notorious Ash Wednesday storm of 1962.
“If you are reluctant, think about your loved ones, think about the emergency responders who will be unable to reach you when you make the panicked phone call to be rescued, think about the rescue/recovery teams who will rescue you if you are injured or recover your remains if you do not survive.”On Sunday, before hunkering down, fearful residents from Washington to New York to Boston queued for emergency provisions like bottled water and batteries in long lines that stretched out the doors of supermarkets.