At least 32 killed as Sandy sweeps US northeast
AT LEAST 32 people are believed to have been killed by Hurricane Sandy in the US, bringing fatalities from the “Frankenstorm” that started last week in the Caribbean to close to 100. Sandy was demoted to a post-tropical storm overnight on Monday, but continued to blight the northeastern US with heavy rain, snow and wind yesterday.
At least 10 of the deaths occurred in New York city. Several, including an eight-year-old boy in Pennsylvania, were killed by falling trees or branches. A woman in Canada was killed by flying debris.
Some 7.5 million homes were left without electricity. “Our priority is life safety and life-sustaining,” Federal Emergency Management Agency administrator Craig Fugate said. “Outside of heavy damage, power restoration tends to drive all the rest of the response.”
Hundreds of people who defied orders to evacuate low-lying areas remained stranded. “If u find urself surrounded by water, call 4 help if u can, then get 2 highest level of home”, said a Twitter post sent by Connecticut governor Dan Malloy. “Hang a white sheet out a street-side window.”
New Jersey’s governor Chris Christie had criticised residents who refused to evacuate as “both stupid and selfish”. Nothing could be done for them overnight Monday, but helicopters rescued hundreds of people from rooftops yesterday.
President Barack Obama declared New Jersey and New York major disaster areas. Gov Christie said the devastation of his state was “unprecedented” and that it would take months to recover. Entire towns were reported to be under 1.2m to 1.5m of water after a berm broke at Moonachie, New Jersey.
Manhattan residents described looking out of buildings that had become islands, surrounded by rivers that had been streets, and lakes that were once parking lots. Battery Park was washed over by a 4.3m tide. It will take up to four days to pump the water out of flooded subway tunnels, though the Metropolitan Transportation Authority hoped to resume limited bus services late yesterday. The NYU Langone Medical Centre had to evacuate 260 patients after its emergency power system failed. Nurses carried premature babies down nine flights of stairs.
Much of the Manhattan skyline was darkened after power substations were shut down to minimise flood damage. A massive, broken crane atop a luxury high-rise on West 57th street continued to teeter menacingly over midtown after it snapped in violent winds.
In the Queens neighbourhood of Breezy Point, 80 houses burned to the ground. The fire, possibly sparked by an electrical fault, jumped from building to building, whipped by gale-force winds.
Runways at John F Kennedy and La Guardia airports were flooded, and there is no indication when flights will resume. The New York Stock Exchange said it will reopen today.
More than 100,000 people were reported to have lost power in Washington, and the federal government remained shut down for a second consecutive day.
The storm was expected to leave up to 90cm of snow in the Appalachians, which saw blizzard conditions yesterday, and 30cm of water on average over the entire region.
“The cyclone is centred over western Pennsylvania now,” National Hurricane Centre director Rick Knabb said yesterday afternoon. “It is still a very large system. There are still strong winds from the south on the mid-Atlantic and New England coastlines.”
Dr Knabb said he expected 60cm to 1.2m of additional flooding at high tide yesterday, and that the US would not be completely rid of Sandy until well into today.
HURRICANE CRISIS MANAGEMENT WHO'S CALLING THE SHOTS?
WHO’S IN CHARGE?
President Barack Obama is heading the relief effort from the White House, holding daily video-teleconferences with the relevant cabinet ministers, military officers and heads of government agencies. He spoke with governors and mayors from affected areas yesterday and has told them to call him if they encounter bureaucracy or delays.
George W Bush appointed a crony to head the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), and paid a heavy price for it when FEMA bungled handling of Hurricane Katrina. Obama chose a non-partisan former head of emergency services in Florida, Chris Fugate, as FEMA administrator. The agency already has more than 1,000 officials on the ground with supplies, food, medicine and emergency generators. It is coordinating between local, state and federal officials and the White House.
WHO CAN CALL A STATE OF EMERGENCY?
President Obama has made two kinds of declarations since Sandy struck the US. The emergency declarations he signed for Connecticut, Delaware, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Virginia and West Virginia mostly before the storm made landfall, allow these states to receive direct federal assistance, for example food, water and generators. Mr Obama yesterday declared major disasters in eight counties of New Jersey and seven counties of New York. These declarations enable FEMA to set up individual assistance programmes, including grants for temporary housing, home repairs and low-cost loans to cover uninsured property losses.
WHO CAN CALL OUT THE NATIONAL GUARD?
The National Guard, the oldest component of the US armed forces, dating back to the 17th century, is a reserve military force comprised of soldiers and airmen who hold full-time civilian jobs. Some 45,000 are available to help with disaster assistance in the wake of Hurricane Sandy.
Although the president can mobilise them for federal duty in time of war or national emergency, in this case they are being activated by state governors. Because their states were declared major disasters, the governors of New Jersey and New York can seek reimbursement for National Guard duties from the federal government.