Hurricane Sandy is a late-season tropical cyclone formed near Jamaica on October 24, 2012. After wreaking havoc and killing 67 people across the Caribbean and Cuba, the "superstorm" made landfall on the northeastern coast of the United States, becoming one of the biggest storms ever to hit the nation. It has affected some 50 million North Americans. As of November 6, it had killed at least 113 in the US, damaged thousands of homes, caused fires, power outages and oil spills.
'Superstorm' Sandy bears down on US East Coast
Hurricane Sandy, the monster storm bearing down on the US East Coast, strengthened on Monday after hundreds of thousands moved to higher ground, public transport shut down and the US stock market suffered its first weather-related closure in 27 years.
About 50 million people from the Mid-Atlantic to Canada were in the path of the nearly 1,600-kilometre-wide storm, which forecasters said could be the largest to hit the mainland in US history. It was expected to topple trees, damage buildings, cause power outages and trigger heavy flooding.
The US National Hurricane Centre (NHC) said on Monday the Category 1 storm had strengthened as it turned toward the coast and was moving at 32km per hour. It was expected to bring a “life-threatening storm surge,” coastal hurricane winds and heavy snow in the Appalachian Mountains, the NHC said.
Nine US states have declared states of emergency, and with the US election eight days away President Barack Obama cancelled a campaign event in Florida on Monday in order to return to Washington and monitor the US government’s response to the storm.
“This is a serious and big storm,” Obama said on Sunday after a briefing at the federal government’s storm response centre in Washington. “We don’t yet know where it’s going to hit, where we’re going to see the biggest impacts.”
Sandy killed 66 people in the Caribbean last week before pounding US coastal areas with rain and triggering snow falls at higher elevations as it moved north.
Forecasting services indicated early on Monday the centre of the storm would strike the New Jersey shore near Atlantic City on Monday night. While Sandy does not pack the punch of Hurricane Katrina, which devastated New Orleans in 2005, it could become more potent as it approaches the US coast.
Winds were at a maximum of 140 km/h, the NHC said in its 8am (8pm HK time) report, up from 120km/h six hours earlier. It said tropical storm-force winds reached as far as 780km from the centre.
Seventeen people from the replica HMS Bounty abandoned ship while stranded at sea off North Carolina in the path of the hurricane, roughly 260km from the centre of storm, the US coastguard said on Monday.
“The 17-person crew donned cold water survival suits and lifejackets before launching in two 25-man lifeboats with canopies,” the coastguard said, adding it was determining which aircraft or vessel was best-placed to launch a rescue.
The three-masted tall ship was built for the 1962 movie Mutiny on the Bounty.
New York and other cities and towns closed their transit systems and ordered mass evacuations from low-lying areas ahead of a storm surge that could reach as high as 3.4 metres.
All US stock markets will be closed on Monday and possibly on Tuesday, the operator of the New York Stock Exchange said late on Sunday, reversing an earlier plan that would have kept electronic trading going on Monday.
The United Nations, Broadway theatres, New Jersey casinos, schools up and down the Eastern Seaboard, and myriad corporate events were also being shut down.
Officials ordered people in coastal towns and low-lying areas to evacuate, often telling them they would put emergency workers’ lives at risk if they stayed.
“Don’t be stupid, get out, and go to higher, safer ground,” New Jersey Governor Chris Christie told a news conference.
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 1 metre of snowfall in the Appalachian Mountains from West Virginia to Kentucky.
At 8pm HK time, the NHC said Sandy was centred about 425km southeast of Atlantic City and about 500km south-southeast of New York City.
Worried residents in the hurricane’s path packed stores, searching for generators, flashlights, batteries, food and other supplies in anticipation of power outages. Nearly 284,000 residential properties valued at US$88 billion are at risk for damage, risk analysts at CoreLogic said.
Transportation systems shut down in anticipation. Airlines canceled flights, bridges and tunnels closed, and national passenger rail operator Amtrak suspended nearly all service on the East Coast. The US government told non-emergency workers in Washington, D.C., to stay home.
Utilities from the Carolinas to Maine reported late on Sunday that a combined 14,000 customers were already without power.
The second-largest oil refinery on the East Coast, Phillips 66’s 238,000 barrel per day (bpd) Bayway plant in Linden, New Jersey, was shutting down and three other plants cut output as the storm affected operations at two-thirds of the region’s plants.
Oil prices slipped on Monday, with Brent near US$109 a barrel. “With refineries cutting runs, we’re likely to see a build-up in crude stocks which could be driving bearish prices at the moment,” said Michael Creed, an economist at National Australia Bank in Melbourne.
New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg ordered the evacuation of some 375,000 people from low-lying areas of the city, from upscale parts of lower Manhattan to waterfront housing projects in the outer boroughs.
While Sandy’s 140 km/h winds were not overwhelming for a hurricane, its exceptional size means the winds will last as long as two days.
“This is not a typical storm,” Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett said. “It could very well be historic in nature and in scope.”