Superstorm heads for east coast of US
on 28/10/2012 10:20:37
Sandy is expected to affect up to 60 million people when it meets two other powerful winter storms.
Experts said it did not matter how strong the storm was when it hit land - the rare hybrid that follows will cause havoc over 800 miles from the East Coast to the Great Lakes.
"This is not a coastal threat alone," said Craig Fugate, director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency. "This is a very large area."
New Jersey governor Chris Christie declared a state of emergency as hundreds of coastal residents started moving inland and the state moved to close its casinos. New York's governor was considering shutting down the subways to avoid flooding and half a dozen states warned residents to prepare for several days of lost power.
Sandy weakened briefly to a tropical storm early yesterday but was soon back up to Category 1 hurricane strength, packing 75mph winds about 335 miles south east of Charleston, South Carolina.
Experts said the storm was most likely to hit the southern New Jersey coastline by late tomorrow or early Tuesday.
Governors from North Carolina, where heavy rain was expected today, to Connecticut declared states of emergency. Delaware ordered mandatory evacuations for coastal communities.
The storm forced the US presidential campaign to juggle schedules. Mitt Romney scrapped plans to campaign in the swing state of Virginia and switched his schedule for the day to Ohio. First lady Michelle Obama cancelled an appearance in New Hampshire for Tuesday, and President Barack Obama moved a planned Monday departure for Florida to tonight to beat the storm.
What makes the storm so dangerous and unusual is that it is coming at the tail end of hurricane season and the beginning of winter storm season, "so it's kind of taking something from both", said Jeff Masters, director of the private service Weather Underground.
Mr Masters said the storm could be bigger than the worst East Coast storm on record - the 1938 New England hurricane known as the Long Island Express, which killed nearly 800 people. Experts said to expect high winds over 800 miles and up to 2ft of snow as far inland as West Virginia.
And the storm was so big, and the convergence of the three storms so rare, that "we just can't pinpoint who is going to get the worst of it," said Rick Knabb, director of the National Hurricane Centre in Miami.
Officials are particularly worried about the possibility of subway flooding in New York City.
New York governor Andrew Cuomo told the Metropolitan Transportation Authority to prepare to shut the city's subways, buses and suburban trains by today, but delayed making a final decision.
The city shut the subways down before last year's Hurricane Irene and a Columbia University study predicted that an Irene surge just one foot higher would have paralysed lower Manhattan.
As the storm swirled away toward the US East Coast, officials in the Caribbean reported that the hurricane cost at least 58 lives in addition to destroying or badly damaging thousands of homes.
While Jamaica, Cuba and the Bahamas took direct hits from the storm, the majority of deaths and most extensive damage was in impoverished Haiti. The country's ramshackle housing and denuded hillsides are especially vulnerable to flooding when rains come.
In New Jersey, Mr Christie's emergency declaration will force the shutdown of Atlantic City's 12 casinos for only the fourth time in the 34-year history of legalised gambling there. The approach of Hurricane Irene shut down the casinos for three days last August.
Atlantic City officials said they would begin evacuating the gambling hub's 30,000 residents at noon local time today, bussing them to mainland shelters and schools.
Tom Foley, Atlantic City's emergency management director, recalled the March 1962 storm when the ocean and the bay met in the centre of the city.
"This is predicted to get that bad," he said.