US east coast braces itself for Hurricane Sandy


Tens of millions of people along the US east coast braced themselves yesterday for Hurricane Sandy, a gigantic storm forecast to hit the densely populated region with fierce winds, extensive flooding and even heavy snowfall.

Sandy, expected to come ashore late today, 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 the New York/New Jersey area and then move inland towards Philadelphia and the rest of Pennsylvania.

The size of the storm meant its effects would be felt from the mid-Atlantic states to New England. Officials warned of widespread power cuts that could last for days.

In New York City, subway, bus and train services were suspended and up to 375,000 were ordered to evacuate from low-lying areas.

President Barack Obama, speaking after a briefing at the federal government’s storm response centre 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.

Worried residents in the hurricane’s path packed shops, searching for generators, flashlights, batteries, food and other supplies in anticipation of power outages.

New York City schools will be shut today. Other local governments also announced school closures.

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 (12in) of rain in some areas, as well as up to 60cm (2ft) of snowfall in the Appalachian mountains from West Virginia to Kentucky.

It could be the largest storm ever to hit the United States, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s website.

Sandy was already disrupting transportation systems. More than 700 flights, including international ones, were cancelled on Sunday and nearly 2,500 more were cancelled for today, FlightAware.comsaid.

The hurricane also blew the presidential race off-course, forcing Mr Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney to cancel scheduled campaign stops.

It fuelled fears that the storm could disrupt early voting ahead of the November 6th election.

US stock exchanges and Wall Street banks were sending employees into Manhattan yesterday to stay in hotels and co-workers’ homes, as markets prepared to open for business today even as Sandy brought public transportation to a halt.

Insurers also prepared for the storm’s arrival, activating claims teams, staging adjusters near the locations most likely to be affected and generally getting ready to pay for a potentially huge volume of losses.

Sandy was centred about 400km (250 miles) southeast of Cape Hatteras, North Carolina, or 930km south of New York City at midday yesterday, the hurricane centre said.

It killed at least 66 people as it made its way through the Caribbean islands, including 51 in Haiti, mostly from flash flooding and mudslides, according to authorities.