US braces as 'Hurricane Sandy' approaches coast


Tropical cyclone Sandy revved back up to hurricane strength today as it churned toward the US northeast coast where it threatens to become one of the worst storms in decades.

The late-season storm has been dubbed “Frankenstorm” by some weather watchers because it will combine elements of a tropical cyclone and a winter storm and is forecast to reach the US coast close to Halloween.

The massive but slow-moving storm, with tropical storm-force winds extending across 650 miles (1,050 km), forecasters warn Sandy's flood impact could span multiple tides with a storm surge of 4 to 8 feet (1.2-2.4 meters) in Long Island Sound, the southern portion of Lower New York Bay and Delaware Bay.

Forecast models show it will have all the ingredients to morph into a so-called “super storm.”

Governors in states along the US east coast declared emergencies yesterday, with officials urging residents to stock up on food, water and batteries.

The US navy ordered all ships in the Norfolk, Virginia, area, including a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier, out to sea to ride out the approaching storm.

“We're expecting a large, large storm,” said Louis Uccellini, director of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Center for Environmental Prediction.

“The circulation of this storm as it approaches the coast could cover about the eastern third of the United States.”

Sandy battered the Bahamas southeast of Florida on Friday after causing widespread destruction in eastern Cuba a day earlier.

The storm was expected to crawl northward today and tomorrow and then turn toward the US coast.

Sandy's powerful winds and rains were blamed for 41 deaths in several Caribbean countries, including 11 in Cuba. Most were killed by falling trees and building collapses.

On its current projected track, Sandy could make US landfall on Monday night or Tuesday somewhere between North Carolina and southern New England, forecasters said.

The storm has the potential to cause widespread power outages and to unleash flooding and even dump snow as far inland as Ohio.

It also threatens to disrupt air travel along the US east coast.

Coming in the final weeks before the US presidential election on November 6th, the storm was presenting a challenge to the campaigns of US president Barack Obama and his Republican challenger Mitt Romney.

Mr Romney cancelled a rally scheduled for Sunday evening in Virginia Beach, Virginia, while Mr Obama's re-election campaign announced that vice president Joe Biden had also cancelled a Saturday trip to that city.

Ahead of the election, millions of Americans are taking advantage of early voting arrangements to cast their ballots. State officials said they had put in place contingency plans in case Sandy caused extended power outages or other problems that could disrupt voting.

In New York City, officials were considering closing down the country's largest mass transit system because they were worried the storm's impact could cause flooding or high winds that might endanger subways and buses.

Much of Florida's northeast coast was under a tropical storm warning and storm warnings and watches extended up the coast through most of South Carolina and North Carolina.

Along North Carolina's Outer Banks, which jut out into the Atlantic, holiday-makers in large camper trailers and motor homes streamed off the barrier islands.

Many forecasters are warning that Sandy could be more destructive than last year's Hurricane Irene, which caused billions of dollars in damage across the US northeast.

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