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Sandy leaves death, damp and darkness

30 October 2012, 16:01

New York — As superstorm Sandy churned slowly inland, millions along the US East Coast awoke on Tuesday without power or mass transit, and huge swaths of New York City were unusually dark and abandoned. At least 17 people were killed in seven states.

The storm that made landfall in New Jersey on Monday evening with 130km/h sustained winds cut power to more than 6 million homes and businesses from the Carolinas to Ohio and put the presidential campaign on hold one week before election day.

New York was among the hardest hit, with its financial heart closed for a second day and seawater cascading into the still-gaping construction pit at the World Trade Centre.

The storm caused the worst damage in the 108-year history of New York's extensive subway system, according to Joseph Lhota, the chairperson of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority.

"This will be one for the record books," said John Miksad, senior vice president for electric operations at Consolidated Edison, which had more than 670 000 customers without power in and around New York City.

Trading at the New York Stock Exchange was cancelled again on Tuesday - the first time the exchange suspended operations for two consecutive days due to weather since a blizzard in 1888.

From curiosity to concern

President Barack Obama declared a major disaster in New York and Long Island, making federal funding available to residents of the area.

New York City's three major airports remained closed. Overall, more than 13 500 flights had been cancelled for Monday and Tuesday, almost all related to the storm, according to the flight-tracking service FlightAware.

Curiosity turned to concern overnight as New York City residents watched whole neighbourhoods disappear into darkness as power was cut.

The World Trade Centre site was a glowing ghost near the tip of Lower Manhattan. Residents reported seeing no lights but the strobes of emergency vehicles and the glimpses of flashlights in nearby apartments. Lobbies were flooded, cars floated and people started to worry about food.

A fire continued to rage in a city neighbourhood on Tuesday morning near the Atlantic Ocean, with 80 to 100 homes destroyed but no deaths reported.

An unprecedented 3.9m surge of seawater - 90cm above the previous record - gushed into lower Manhattan, inundating tunnels, subway stations and the electrical system that powers Wall Street and sent hospital patients and tourists scrambling for safety. Skyscrapers swayed and creaked in winds that partially toppled a crane 74 stories above Midtown.

Chicago warned

In New Jersey, where the superstorm came ashore, hundreds of people were being evacuated in rising water early on Tuesday. Officials were using boats to try to rescue about 800 people living in a trailer park in Moonachie. There were no reports of injuries or deaths. Local authorities initially reported a levee had broken, but Governor Chris Christie said a berm overflowed.

The massive storm reached well into the Midwest. Chicago officials warned residents to stay away from the Lake Michigan shore as the city prepared for winds of up to 96km/h and waves exceeding 7.2m well into Wednesday.

As Hurricane Sandy closed in on the Northeast, it converged with a cold-weather system that turned it into a monstrous hybrid of rain and high winds - even bringing snow in West Virginia and other mountainous areas inland.

Remnants of the now-former Category 1 hurricane were forecast to head across Pennsylvania before taking another sharp turn into western New York state by Wednesday morning. As of 05:00 (09:00 GMT) on Tuesday, the storm was centred about 145km west of Philadelphia.

Although weakening as it goes, the massive storm — which caused wind warnings from Florida to Canada - will continue to bring heavy rain and local flooding, said Daniel Brown, warning coordination meteorologist at the National Hurricane Centre (NHC) in Miami.

Just before it made landfall at 20:00 near Atlantic City, New Jersey, forecasters stripped Sandy of hurricane status, but the distinction was purely technical, based on its shape and internal temperature. It still packed hurricane-force winds.


While the hurricane's 144km/h winds registered as only a Category 1 on a scale of five, it packed "astoundingly low" barometric pressure, giving it terrific energy to push water inland, said Kerry Emanuel, a professor of meteorology at MIT.

Officials blamed at least 17 deaths in the US on the converging storms - in New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Connecticut, Maryland, North Carolina and West Virginia. Three victims were children, one just 8 years old. At least one death was blamed on the storm in Canada.

Sandy killed 69 people in the Caribbean before making its way up the Atlantic Coast.

Even before it made landfall in New Jersey, crashing waves had claimed an old, 15m piece of Atlantic City's world-famous Boardwalk.

"We are looking at the highest storm surges ever recorded" in the Northeast, said Jeff Masters, meteorology director for Weather Underground, a private forecasting service.

The New York metropolitan area got the worst of it. An explosion at a ConEdison power substation knocked out power to about 310 000 customers in Manhattan.

200 patients evacuated

"It sounded like the Fourth of July," Stephen Weisbrot said from his apartment in lower Manhattan.

New York University's Tisch Hospital was forced to evacuate 200 patients after its backup generator failed. NYU Medical Dean Robert Grossman said patients - among them 20 babies from the neonatal intensive care unit who were on battery-powered respirators - had to be carried down staircases and to dozens of ambulances waiting to take them to other hospitals.

Tunnels and bridges to Manhattan were shut down, and some flooded.

A construction crane atop a $1.5bn luxury high-rise overlooking Central Park collapsed in high winds and dangled precariously. Thousands of people were ordered to leave several nearby buildings as a precaution, including 900 guests at the ultramodern Le Parker Meridien hotel.

Alice Goldberg, aged 15, a tourist from Paris, was watching television in the hotel - whose slogan is "Uptown, Not Uptight" - when a voice came over the loudspeaker and told everyone to leave.

"They said to take only what we needed, and leave the rest, because we'll come back in two or three days," she said as she and hundreds of others gathered in the luggage-strewn marble lobby. "I hope so."

Crew member dead, captain missing

Off North Carolina, not far from an area known as "the Graveyard of the Atlantic", a replica of the 18th-century sailing ship HMS Bounty that was built for the 1962 movie Mutiny on the Bounty sank when her diesel engine and bilge pumps failed.

Coast Guard helicopters plucked 14 crew members from rubber lifeboats bobbing in 5.4m seas. A 15th crew member who was found unresponsive several hours after the others was later pronounced dead. The Bounty's captain was still missing.

President Barack Obama scrapped his campaign events for Monday and Tuesday to stay at the White House to oversee the government's response to the superstorm. Romney was going ahead with a planned event in Ohio on Tuesday, but his campaign said its focus would be on storm relief.

- AP


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