Superstorm Sandy: Obama sends in army
NEW York City was last night bracing itself to be hammered by the full force of Superstorm Sandy, as transport networks along America’s east coast went into lockdown amid predictions of violent winds, torrential rain and an 11ft-high tidal surge.
The post-tropical cyclone had strengthened late last night and was due to cross the coast in New Jersey about midnight, UK time, with the eye of the hurricane remaining on a deadly collision course with the cities of New York, Washington DC, Baltimore and Philadelphia.
Escalating fears prompted President Barack Obama to make a direct appeal to people on the east coast, urging them to heed warnings to evacuate before the storm’s arrival to avoid “potentially fatal consequences”.
Authorities were preparing for Sandy to leave a trail of destruction potentially spreading across more than 800 miles from the east coast to the Great Lakes, endangering as many as 50 million people.
More than 60,000 National Guard troops in nine states had been put on standby to lead rescue efforts in the aftermath of the storm, which was expected to batter the coast with winds of up to 80mph.
Mr Obama said: “Please listen to what your state and local officials are saying. When they tell you to evacuate, you need to evacuate. Don’t delay, don’t pause, don’t question the instructions that are being given.”
Residents continued to flee low-lying coastal areas from Maryland to Connecticut in their droves late yesterday as authorities warned the time for evacuation was fast running out, if not already past.
American Airlines, United and Delta were among companies to cancel nearly 7,500 flights across the country as widespread power failures were forecast.
Subways and airports were closed along the east coast. Transit systems have been suspended in New York, Boston, Philadelphia and Washington DC in a crippling shutdown that has left many stranded in their homes.
The Holland Tunnel – a 1.6-mile roadway connecting New York City and New Jersey – was shut to traffic, while the supply of petrol, diesel and jet fuel ground to a halt, with two-thirds of the region’s refineries and most major ports also closed.
Sandy remained on target to collide with two other weather systems – a wintry front from the west and cold air streaming down from the Arctic – in a climax forecasters said could cause a rare, hybrid super-storm.
That worst-case scenario would concentrate the most devastation on the northern part of New York State, including New York City and Long Island.
New York mayor Michael Bloomberg told residents: “Leave immediately. Conditions are deteriorating very rapidly and the window for you getting out safely is closing.”
The warning from the New Jersey governor, Chris Christie, was even more blunt. “Don’t be stupid. Get out,” she said.
Mr Bloomberg ordered the evacuation of 375,000 people from lower Manhattan, including Coney Island and Staten Island, with 72 emergency shelters set up across the city. Fifty thousand people in Delaware and 30,000 in Atlantic City, New Jersey, have also been urged to flee.
New York is expecting a surge of seawater that could swamp parts of lower Manhattan, flood subway tunnels and cripple the network of electrical and communications lines.
Last night’s full moon was expected to add to the high tide and storm surge. Water had already started lapping over the sea walls at the southern tip of Manhattan by early evening, UK time.
Britons living in New York joined other residents rushing to stock up on supplies.
Divya Samtani, 22, of London, said: “Everyone is freaking out. Torches are sold out everywhere, queues are really long in the supermarkets, and all the hardware shops are closed. We’re all hanging in there and waiting.”
The New York Stock Exchange closed its trading floor for the first time since 1985. Wall Street was to shut down trading for a second straight day today.
The United Nations headquarters, on the east shore of Manhattan Island, also took the rare step of closing its doors.
Atlantic City’s 12 casinos were shut for only the fourth time in history. Deserted streets were under water late yesterday. One of the country’s busiest toll roads – New Jersey’s Garden State Parkway – was also flooded.
Jeff Masters, a hurricane specialist with Weather Underground, said: “The size of this alone, affecting a heavily populated area, is going to be history-making.”
Mr Obama promised that the government would “respond big and respond fast” once the storm had passed, after listing the major east coast cities of Massachusetts, Connecticut and Rhode Island as among the official emergency zones.
He returned to Washington yesterday to monitor the crisis after cancelling campaign appearances in Florida and Wisconsin a week out before election day.
Republican challenger Mitt Romney also cancelled a string of campaign events.
Mr Obama said: “This is going to be a big storm, it’s going to be a difficult storm.
“The great thing about America is when we go through tough times like this, we all pull together. We all look out for our friends, we look out for our neighbours and we set aside whatever issues we may have otherwise to make sure we respond appropriately and with swiftness – and that’s exactly what I anticipate is going to happen here.”
Mr Obama said people should expect to be without power for several days. The warning came after New York City’s main power provider, Consolidated Edison, told customers in lower Manhattan their power was likely to be shut off last night.
Some have refused to flee. Jonas Clark, 73, from Manchester Township, New Jersey, questioned why people were working themselves “into a tizzy”.
Mr Clark said: “I’ve seen a lot of major storms in my time, and there’s nothing you can do but take reasonable precautions and ride out things the best you can.”
The Category 1 hurricane, dubbed “Frankenstorm” because of the timing with Halloween, has already been blamed for at least 69 deaths in the Caribbean.
Half of a large fishing pier in the beach resort of Ocean City, Maryland, was swept away in the first signs of structural damage along the east coast yesterday.
And last night millions of Americans were braced to feel the full brutal power of Hurricane Sandy.
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Weather for Edinburgh
Thursday 23 May 2013
Temperature: 5 C to 10 C
Wind Speed: 24 mph
Wind direction: North
Temperature: 5 C to 13 C
Wind Speed: 16 mph
Wind direction: North east