'Gigantic' Hurricane Sandy bears down on eastern US
Tens of millions of people along the US east coast girded themselves today for Hurricane Sandy, a gigantic storm forecast to assault the densely populated region with battering winds, dangerous flooding and even heavy snowfall.
Sandy, expected to come ashore late tomorrow, could deliver a harsh blow to major cities in its target zone including New York, Philadelphia, Washington, Baltimore and Boston. Its centre was forecast to strike New York-New Jersey area and then move inland toward Philadelphia and the rest of Pennsylvania.
The sheer size of the storm meant its effects would be felt from the mid-Atlantic states to New England. Officials warned of widespread power outages that could last for days.
In New York City, subway, bus and train service will be suspended this evening and up to 375,000 people were ordered to evacuate from low-lying areas.
US president Barack Obama, speaking after a briefing at the federal government's storm response center in Washington, called Sandy a "serious and big storm" and asked residents to heed the orders of state and local authorities to protect themselves from its onslaught.
"It's a very, very large system," National Hurricane Center director Rick Knabb said. "The storm is going to carve a pretty large swath of bad weather, both water and wind."
The storm could bring the country's financial nerve center to a standstill, although the major Wall Street exchanges said they planned to open as usual tomorrow because they have alternative facilities they can use.
Worried residents in the hurricane's path packed stores, searching for generators, flashlights, batteries, food and other supplies in anticipation of power outages. New York City schools will be shut on Monday.
Other local governments also announced school closures. Gale-force winds were already starting to buffet Virginia and could reach other parts of the mid-Atlantic coast on Sunday night.
Tens of millions of people will feel its bluster for as long as two days, Mr Knabb said. Forecasters said Sandy was a rare, hybrid "super storm" created by an Arctic jet stream wrapping itself around a tropical storm, possibly causing up to 30cm of rain in some areas, as well as up to 60cm of snowfall in the Appalachian Mountains from West Virginia to Kentucky.
It could be the largest storm to hit the United States, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's (NOAA) website. Sandy was already disrupting transportation systems.
More than 700 flights, including international ones, were canceled on Sunday and nearly 2,500 more were canceled for Monday, FlightAware.com said. New Jersey casinos were ordered to close and state officials decided to shut bus and rail systems by early tomorrow. Governors in other states put National Guard troops on alert.
"We're just asking people to be patient and be ready for a long haul. But we have a very aggressive power restoration program in place and I think we're ready," Virginia Governor Robert McDonnell told the CNN program State of the Union.