Confusion reigns as Sandy visits death and damage on east coast
HURRICANE SANDY’s liquid fist shattered New York City when it came down yesterday, leaving seven tunnels under the East River flooded, and every borough and every county affected in some way.
At dawn, the morning after the night before, Metropolitan Transportation Authority chairman Joseph Llhota described the storm as the worst disaster in the subway’s 108-year history. President Barack Obama, who cancelled campaigning yesterday and today to oversee federal relief efforts, declared a state of emergency for the city, Long Island and New Jersey.
Leaving as many as 30 dead in its wake in the US alone, the hurricane cut a swathe west through New Jersey and New York city early yesterday before blowing into Pennsylvania.
The storm was expected to turn sharply north overnight, re-enter New York state and, downgraded from hurricane status, continue a northward passage today into Vermont and Canada, gradually losing potency. However, parts of the extraordinarily wide storm are converging with a cold weather system inland, giving rise to blizzard warnings in West Virginia, western Maryland, eastern Tennessee, eastern Kentucky and western North Carolina.
Up and down the east coast, homes and businesses were damaged yesterday, many severely. The US National Weather Service said there had been a record storm surge of almost 4.2m into downtown Manhattan, well above the previous record of three metres during Hurricane Donna in 1960.
Saltwater poured into the New York subway tunnels under the city. In New Jersey, burst levees led to flooding of three towns: Moonachie, Little Ferry and Carlstadt.
As New York woke yesterday, there was confusion.
“Nobody knows what’s going on, and lines are really bad between places like south Manhattan, Queens, and Staten Island, which are the worst this morning,” said local reporter Leisha Majtan, describing how residents in Broad Channel, Queens, woke up to find their cars dragged into the middle of the street by flood water.
Queens was also the site of the first storm-related fatality in the US, as police reported the death of a man after a tree fell on his house at about 7pm on Monday. Five more people died in New York, three each in New Jersey and Pennsylvania, two in Connecticut, one in each of Maryland and North Carolina and West Virginia, and one death in Canada was blamed on the storm.
During a midday press conference yesterday, New York city mayor Michael Bloomberg called Sandy perhaps the worst storm the region had ever seen. Some 80 houses had been lost and 60,000 people were without power in the city, he said.
“Power may be out in lots of places for two, three days. Maybe even longer than that,” he warned.
Perhaps the most dramatic footage of the storm was a video of the collapse of a four-storey building in Manhattan’s Chelsea neighbourhood, close to where Megan Ertzel lives.
Ertzel (27), an online marketing strategist, spent last night tweeting photos of what her Lower East Side neighbourhood looked like. “Once water started splashing over cars, I realised that it was time to start documenting,” she said, describing how Sandy’s seriousness caught her off guard. “When Irene hit last year, the East Village was barely touched and I was preparing for a similar experience this year.”
The city remains on lockdown as repair crews deal with power outages and mass transit remains down. Schools, as well as stock and bond markets, remain closed. People are urged to remain at home unless they know they have a clear passageway to their place of work.
Seventy-six shelters stayed open yesterday. Michael Devulpillieres, a spokesman for the Red Cross, told The Irish Times the aid organisation was working with 11,000 people across 16 states along the east coast, including New York.
“Parts of New York City are very bad, and I just want to emphasise the scope of this disaster,” said Devulpillieres.
Thankfully, not all the city woke up to devastated streets. A stone’s throw from Manhattan’s Lower East Side, in Brooklyn’s Greenpoint neighbourhood, it was almost business as usual yesterday morning. One family-owned deli, on busy Manhattan Avenue, even stayed open all night, attracting a relatively steady stream of customers.
“People came in and were happy,” said one of the owners, who asked to be referred to as Farouk. “They say: thank God you’re open and you can make us sandwiches!”