Sandy strengthens, nears US coast

2012-10-29 13:07

New York - 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 600km-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 24km/h. 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 President Barack Obama has warned the nation to brace itself.

"This is a serious and big storm," Obama said 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 before pounding US coastal areas with rain and triggering snow falls at higher elevations.

Campaign stops cancelled

Forecasting services indicated early on Monday the storm would strike the New Jersey shore near Atlantic City on Monday night. While Sandy does not yet pack the punch of Hurricane Katrina, which devastated New Orleans in 2005, it could become more potent as it approaches the US coast.

Winds increased to a maximum of 140km/h, the NHC said in its 5 1100 GMT report, up from 120km three hours earlier. It said tropical Storm force winds reached as far as 780km from the centre.

New York and other cities and towns closed their transit systems and schools and ordered mass evacuations from low-lying areas ahead of a storm surge that could reach as high as 3.4m.

All US stock markets will be closed on Monday and possibly 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.

Sandy forced President Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney to cancel some campaign stops and fuelled concern it could disrupt early voting - encouraged by the candidates this year more than ever - before the 6 November election.

The United Nations, Broadway theatres, New Jersey casinos, schools up and down the Eastern Seaboard, and myriad corporate events were also being shut down.

Rare, hybrid 'super storm'

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 90cm of snowfall in the Appalachian Mountains from West Virginia to Kentucky.

At 1100 GMT, the NHC said Sandy was centred about 615km south southeast of New York City, about 64km closer than was reported three hours earlier.

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 $88bn are at risk for damage, risk analysts at CoreLogic said.

Transportation systems shut down in anticipation. Airlines cancelled 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 DC to stay home.

Oil prices slip

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 $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 about 375 000 people from low-lying areas of the city, from upscale parts of lower Manhattan to waterfront housing projects in the outer boroughs.

The US Coast Guard responded to a distress call from HMS Bounty, a tall ship with 17 people aboard approximately 145km southeast of Hatteras, North Carolina. A replica built for the 1962 movie version of Mutiny on the Bounty, the three-mast, 55m vessel was believed to be taking on water and was without propulsion, the Coast Guard said.

"We are talking with the crew and the owner about search and rescue possibilities," Petty Officer David Weydert said.

While Sandy's 140km/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," said Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett. "It could very well be historic in nature and in scope."

  • tracey.erasmus.92 - 2012-10-29 13:18

    Scary Stuff... Does not seem real...Reads like a movie script...... Do not mess with nature.....

  • andrew.arnesen - 2012-10-29 13:29

    And climate change does not exist? These freaky weather events are becoming more and more prevalent. What will it take to convince the average Joe that damaging the environment will come back to bite you???

      richard.bosmano - 2012-10-29 13:43

      It's good for my panelbeating shop.Global warming rocks

      louis.kriel - 2012-10-29 14:08

      Yes the climate is changing ... from calm to very rough! Almost like a hurricane is brewing.

  • derek.bredenkamp.3 - 2012-10-29 13:30

    I wonder when we'll admit that we are the cause? Probably when it's too late, if it's not already.

  • ray.molekoa.5 - 2012-10-29 13:35

    I hope and pray that the Americans will come out of this with no loss of lives . The authorities are competent and fore sighted unlike here where after the storm everybody in authority will blame the past for their failure to take precautions in the face of a looming disaster .

  • jacqueline.v.dyk - 2012-10-29 13:44

    Eish.... like that movie "End of days"

  • Hemlock - 2012-10-29 13:51

    Frightening. My thoughts and prayers are with all those affected by this storm.

  • djmain1 - 2012-10-29 13:57

    Perhaps there is a God after all.

      butch.poulter - 2012-10-29 14:16

      Doesnt take a storm to believe in God.

  • dave.elmore.5 - 2012-10-29 13:57

    67 lives lost already, check out the radar pictures from CNN, this is unbelievable

  • Jeremy - 2012-10-29 14:11

    Sounds as though New York's going to look like a scene from "The Day After Tomorrow." Who can forget the scene of the tidal wave sweeping through NY - and then freezing over? Rubbish science - but great special effects!

  • janine.e.victor - 2012-10-29 14:20

    Meanwhile, on the other side of the planet, category 3 strength hurricane Son Tinh is busy killing people and devastating Vietnam, but not a word in the media about this.

  • jan.j.potgieter - 2012-10-29 14:20

    Let us pray for each family who has to evacuate and stand the risk of lossing every thing. May God Protect you and let this storm also pass. Be Strong!! JP

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