New York, Oct. 29: Hurricane Sandy churned relentlessly through the Atlantic Ocean today on the way to carving what forecasters agreed would be a devastating path on land.
The huge storm — some are calling it Frankenstorm — is expected to paralyse life for millions of people in more than a half-dozen states in the US, with extensive evacuations, once-in-a-generation flooding, widespread power failures and mass transit disruptions.
Sandy, which picked up speed over the water on Monday morning, was producing sustained winds of 150kmph by 11am local time. The centre of Hurricane Sandy made its expected turn towards the New Jersey coast early on Monday.
New York and other cities 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.
In Manhattan, the top section of a crane atop a luxury building under construction on West 57th Street near Central Park had toppled over and was dangling about 80 stories above the ground.
Even with landfall still hours away, there was no holding back flooding from the advance guard of the storm.
By early 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. “Conditions are deteriorating rapidly and the window for you getting out safely is closing.”
The UN, Broadway theatres and New Jersey casinos were forced to close, and more than two-thirds of the East Coast’s oil refining capacity was shutting down.
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. About 150,000 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,” President Barack Obama said at the White House.
The storm interrupted the presidential campaign with eight days to the election. 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.
Nine states have declared a state of emergency. Experts said economic losses from the storm could reach $20 billion.
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 trap the hurricane-nor’easter combo and hold it in place, amplifying the inland flooding effects.
Moreover, the storm was coming ashore at high tide, which was pulled even higher by a full moon.