Americans told to 'prepare for worst' with arrival of 'monster storm'


Some 60 million people in the US will be affected by Hurricane Sandy, writes LARA MARLOWEin Washington

HURRICANE SANDY hurtled towards the mid-Atlantic seaboard yesterday, flailing 90mph winds and pushing an 11ft surge of water towards New York, New Jersey and Long Island Sound.

National Hurricane Centre director Richard Knabb told reporters that Sandy would pour a foot of water on to coastal and inland areas, and deposit up to two feet of snow on the Appalachian mountains in West Virginia, Kentucky, Pennsylvania and Maryland.

Some 60 million people in the most densely populated part of the US will be affected by Sandy, which was expected to make landfall in New Jersey yesterday evening, before continuing its rampage through seven states today.

“It’s going to be a long-duration event,” said Craig Fugate, administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (Fema).

“We are rapidly moving teams, commodities, bottled water and meals to the area,” Fugate continued.

Fema is co-ordinating with the army corps of engineers and is bringing in 400 large electrical generators, capable of running hospitals and water-treatment plants.

Politicians seemed to compete for the most dire predictions. “This is the most catastrophic event that we have faced and been able to plan for in any of our lifetimes,” said Connecticut governor Dan Malloy.

Martin O’Malley, the governor of Maryland, called Sandy a “killer storm that will likely take more lives as she makes landfall”.

New York, Newark, Philadelphia, Washington and other eastern cities were like windswept, rain-lashed ghost towns yesterday. Winds from the storm are expected to raise 25ft waves on the Great Lakes.

New York mayor Michael Bloomberg ordered some 370,000 people to evacuate from low-lying areas on Sunday. The New York stock exchange closed floor trading due to weather yesterday, for the first time in 27 years. Public transport throughout the region shut down overnight from Sunday to yesterday. None is expected to resume before tomorrow at the earliest. The federal government and schools remained closed. Thousands of flights were cancelled.

As some residents of coastal areas refused to be evacuated, and daredevil surfers converged on his state’s beaches, New Jersey governor Chris Christie said: “When the storm comes, if it’s as bad as they’re predicting it will be, you’ll wish you weren’t as cynical. I’m not trying to be alarmist here. We need to prepare for the worst. I don’t want to see lives lost unnecessarily.”

The storm has virtually frozen the tied presidential race, with US president Barack Obama and Republican candidate Mitt Romney both cancelling campaign appearances yesterday and today. Romney assumed yet another new persona as a purveyor of disaster relief, asking supporters to donate tinned food and other supplies to his “victory offices” in Virginia and Ohio for distribution to those affected by the storm.

Sandy halted early voting – a process which favours Obama – in the key swing state of Virginia.

“Obviously, we want unfettered access to the polls because we believe that the more people come out, the better we’re going to do, and so, to the extent that it makes it harder, . . . that’s a source of concern,” Obama’s senior adviser, David Axelrod, told CNN on Sunday.

But the hurricane also provides Obama with the opportunity to demonstrate his skills as commander in chief, just one week before the election. The president visited Fema headquarters on Sunday, and held a White House situation-room meeting with the heads of the departments of homeland security, energy, transportation and other government agencies yesterday.

Obama then went on live television to brief the country about the “big and powerful storm” that was already striking the US capital. Sandy would affect millions of people, he warned.

“When they tell you to evacuate, you need to evacuate . . . Don’t question the instructions that are being given, because . . . it could potentially have fatal consequences.”

It might take “several days” to restore power after the wind dies down, Obama said.

By lunchtime yesterday 116,000 people in seven states were already without electricity, and up to 10 million are expected to lose power before Sandy dissipates. Jersey Central Power and Light warned it might take 10 days after the storm clears to repair lines, polls and damaged equipment.

Consolidated Edison, which provides electricity to Manhattan, said it would shut off two networks on the lower part of the island, as well as networks in low-lying parts of Brooklyn and Queens, rather than have its infrastructure destroyed by flooding.

East-coast power companies brought thousands of line and tree crew workers from as far away as Florida, Iowa and Washington state so they can begin work as soon as the wind subsides.

Obama tried to turn the storm into an object lesson on the benefits of solidarity and government. “This is going to be a big storm,” he said. “The great thing about America is when we go through tough times like this, we all pull together. We look out for our friends. We look out for our neighbours. And we set aside whatever issues we may have otherwise to make sure that we respond appropriately and with swiftness.”

Americans “need to prepare for the fact that this is going to take a long time for us to clean up”, Obama added.

Asked how the storm would affect the November 6th election, he said: “I’m not worried at this point about the impact on the election. I’m worried about the impact on families . . . on our first responders . . . on our economy and on transportation. The election will take care of itself next week.”

Sandy started last week in the Caribbean, where it killed 67 people. Atlantic hurricanes usually turn east, out to sea, as they travel up the coastline. But Sandy is what one expert called a “meteorologically mind-boggling” coincidence; a collision of a tropical hurricane and a cold front arriving from the west, which accelerated the hurricane as it pulled Sandy westward.

Two other factors – a blast of cold air travelling down from the Arctic, and a full moon that raised tides last night – contrived to make Sandy the perfect storm.

In keeping with Halloween, Sandy the hybrid has been dubbed the “monster storm” and “Frankenstorm”.

Flight disruptions cancellations and delays

HURRICANE SANDY continues to affect flights from Ireland to east-coast US cities, with at least one flight to New York cancelled.

Most flights from Irish airports are scheduled to go ahead today but last night Aer Lingus confirmed its flights EI 105 Dublin New York and EI-104 New York to Dublin have been cancelled.

A company spokesman said flights EI109 Dublin to New York and EI108 New York to Dublin were “currently planned to operate on schedule”.

That may change however and passengers could expect delays in some cases of at least four hours. Aer Lingus will update passengers by SMS or online.

Aer Lingus flights to and from Boston, Chicago and Orlando will go ahead as scheduled. British Airways and Virgin flights from Heathrow Airport in London also face disruption.

Virgin has confirmed that early flights today at 9am and 1pm from Heathrow to New York are cancelled. Later-departing flights are scheduled to go ahead, as are flights to Boston and Washington.

United Airlines, which cancelled flights from Dublin to Newark and Dulles, Washington DC, is expecting its flights to operate today, with delays likely.

British Airways has warned passengers of continued disruption and was expected to make a decision late last night about services to and from US east-coast cities including Philadelphia, Baltimore, Boston, New York and Newark.

A BA spokesman said: “Our other US flights are operating normally and we are also able to fly as usual to Toronto and Montreal in Canada.”

Airlines have advised passengers they can change flights without charge or seek a refund.