Superstorm Sandy could bring 'catastrophe,' impact 60 million



New York: Tens of millions of Americans braced themselves up for a potentially devastating Hurricane Sandy as its wind speed crossed the dangerous 90 miles per hour, threatening "unprecedented damage" with forecasters warning that it will slam cities from New York to Washington.

Authorities declared a state of emergency from North Carolina to Connecticut as the superstorm made its way up the Atlantic on a collision course with two other weather systems, which could turn it into one of the most deadly storms to hit the US. It could affect as many as 60 million people.

President Barack Obama suspended his election campaign and rushed to the White House to personally review preparations as the Hurricane Sandy - being dubbed as a 'Frankenstorm' - threatened to hit America's East coast.

Obama held an emergency situation room meeting with his top advisors and officials on hurricane preparedness.

Meanwhile, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) has deputed inspectors at all nuclear power plants that could potentially experience impacts from the storm. At least eight nuclear power plants are falling on the path of Hurricane Sandy including Indian Point, in New York.

"The inspectors are independently verifying that plant operators are making the proper preparations, are following relevant procedures and are taking appropriate actions to ensure plant safety before, during and after the storm," it said in a statement.

Sandy is threatening to become the largest storm to hit the mainland in US history. It was producing sustained winds of 90 miles per hour by 11 am Monday, up from 75 miles on Sunday night.

An expected storm surge at midnight could raise water levels to 11 feet above normal high tide, bringing "the potential to cause unprecedented damage."

Obama warned that millions of people would be affected, as "a serious and big" storm Hurricane Sandy headed towards the East Coast. "This is going to be a big storm. It's going to be a difficult storm," Obama said.

"We anticipate that the center of the storm is going to hit landfall sometime this evening. But because of the nature of this storm, we are certain that this is going to be a slow-moving process through a wide swath of the country, and millions of people are going to be affected," Obama told White House reporters, soon after holding situation room meetings.

"We're making sure that food and water, and emergency generation is available for those communities that are going to be hardest hit," Obama said as he asked his countrymen to strictly follow the instructions of authorities.

Obama cautioned that the transportation and the power to be effected in the storm hit areas might take a long time before the services are resumed. "Transportation is going to be tied up for a long time. And probably the most significant impact for a lot of people, in addition to flooding, is going to be getting power back on," he said.

In its latest advisory on Monday morning, the National Hurricane Centre said Sandy is forecast to turn northwestward and "expected to bring life-threatening storm surge and coastal hurricane winds plus heavy Appalachian snows."

Nine US states, including Connecticut, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Maryland declared states of emergency.

"This is the most catastrophic event that we have faced and been able to plan for in any of our lifetimes," Connecticut Governor Dan Malloy warned.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency said cost from wind damages alone could reach USD three billion in the wake of Sandy with losses totalling several billions of dollars more due to damage caused by water, toppled trees and power outages.

Public transport system, the lifeline of millions of commuters, was mandatorily closed in cities like New York, Boston, Washington and New Jersey. Nearly 7,000 flights were cancelled as airlines scrambled to get their planes out of the storm's path.

Sandy killed 66 people in the Caribbean before pounding US coastal areas with rain and triggering snow falls at higher elevations. The hurricane is expected to make landfall somewhere between central New Jersey and southern Delaware.

"The center of Sandy is expected to make landfall along or just south of the southern New Jersey coast this evening or tonight," the hurricane centre's warning said. Flooding began to hit the Long Island area of New York City.

"We anticipate that there are going to be a lot of trees down, a lot of water, and despite the fact that the power companies are working very closely with their various state officials and local officials to make sure that they are bringing in as many assets as possible and getting those ready in preparation for the storm, the fact is that a lot of these emergency crews are not going to be able to get into position to start restoring power until some of these winds have died down. And because of the nature of this storm, that may make take several days," Obama said.

"So the public should anticipate that there's going to be a lot of power outages and it may take time for that power to get back on. The same is true with transportation; there are going to be a lot of backlogs. And even after the storm has cleared, it's going to take a considerable amount of time for airlines, subways, trains, and so forth, potentially, to get back, you know, on schedule, depending on the amount of damage that has occurred," said the US President.

Governors and mayors of the states in Sandy's path cautioned residents to use "common sense" and avoid venturing into harm's way.

New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg said the mass transit system would not operate for several hours after the storm and warned that residents in areas where mandatory evacuation was ordered should have left their homes by now. "The window for you to leave is closing," he said. "You should have left but now it's getting to be too late to leave."

Bloomberg said about 3,000 people had come in to city shelters, a lot less than the 370,000 ordered to evacuate.

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie told people to stay off the roads, saying the storm was only beginning to enter the US coastline and had already caused huge massive flooding and power outages.

"It it looks stupid, it is stupid. This is only the beginning of the storm," he said at a news conference. "Don't be stupid, get out, and go to higher, safer ground." Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley gave a dire warning of the grim situation in the wake of the storm. "There will be people who die and are killed in this storm," he warned.

"We need to watch out for each other, but the intensity of this storm is such that there will undoubtedly be some deaths that are caused by the intensity of this storm, by the floods, by the tidal surge, and by the waves," O'Malley said.

Hurricane-force winds extended up to 175 miles from the center of the storm and tropical-storm-force winds extended up to 485 miles from the center.

The powerful storm combined with the strong winds was threatening to wreak havoc in the Northeast for days after the storm has passed.

Over 10 million people were expected to lose electricity due to power outages being caused by heavy flooding, toppled trees and damage buildings.

Forecasters said Hurricane Sandy could also dump inches on snow on its track. Several feet of heavy snow was expected in West Virginia, Pennsylvania and Ohio. Schools and offices in and around the New York area remained closed.

The New York Stock Exchange closed the trading floor and suspend all trading today. The closing was the first caused by bad weather since Hurricane Gloria in 1985.

The exchange had also remained closed for three days after the September 11 attacks. The Nasdaq exchange also announced it would be closed on Monday.

PTI