US east coast braced for worst hurricane in its history
MORE THAN TWO million Americans in 11 states and the District of Columbia were without electricity last night, when Hurricane Sandy, believed to be the biggest storm ever recorded in the Atlantic, made landfall in southern New Jersey.
The US Coastguard said Claudene Christian, a sailor from the HMS Bounty, a replica of the historic ship, was found dead after it sank off the coast of North Carolina. Fourteen crew members were rescued, but the captain, Robin Walbridge, was still missing. Dubbed “the Frankenstorm” because of her hybrid, monster nature, Sandy killed 67 people in the Caribbean last week.
High winds and rising flood waters battered the Atlantic coast from the Carolinas to Maine. The façade of a building collapsed in the Chelsea district of Manhattan, and much of West 57th street had to be evacuated because a construction crane dangled precariously over the street.
Cars were under water in Atlantic City, where part of the fabled boardwalk was torn up by the storm On the northern coast of Long Island, 94 mph winds were recorded.
In the same area, water surged 12.4 feet above its normal level. Nine eastern US states have declared a state of emergency.
Sixty million people, or almost 20 per cent of the US population, live in the path of the storm.
As the storm approached the Atlantic seaboard, some Americans tempted fate. Gamblers squeezed in a few more games of blackjack in Atlantic City casinos before Governor Chris Christie shut them down on Sunday night.
At least one surfer flew from California to New Jersey to ride the waves as the storm hit. New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg said police had to arrest surfers.
In the hours before the storm, shoppers hoarded tinned food, bottled water, candles, torches and batteries, and filled their bathtubs. Electrical generators sold out. Petrol stations in Connecticut ran out of fuel during the exodus from New York.
Shopkeepers and restaurateurs took out plywood sheets they’d used to protect their businesses from Hurricane Irene last year. They used black spray paint to cross out “Irene,” so the graffiti now reads “Go Away Sandy” and “Be kind to us Sandy”.
Just one week before the presidential election, neither Mitt Romney nor Barack Obama wants to appear to exploit the hurricane for political advantage. Both men called off campaign events yesterday and today. “The election will take care of itself next week,” Mr Obama said.
Mr Obama dispatched the former president Bill Clinton to campaign for him in Minnesota and Colorado.
In Virginia, where two former governors are embroiled in a race for the US Senate, both candidates asked supporters to take down yard signs.
“The last thing we want is for yard signs to become projectiles,” the Democratic candidate Tim Kaine said in an email.
In New York, mayor Michael Bloomberg once more urged residents to stay indoors. “This is a storm that could easily kill you,” he said.
The mayor’s office has advised almost 400,000 people to evacuate the city, and shelters have already accepted 3,000 residents affected by the hurricane.
A spokeswoman for the NYC Department of Education told The Irish Times that 76 public school buildings are being used as evacuation centres across the city.
At a press conference yesterday, New York governor Andrew Cuomo moved to reassure New Yorkers. “The question is the extent of the storm surge. It’s already high, already at Irene levels.”
Mr Cuomo added that two key Manhattan tunnels closed yesterday.
Reports: page 9