‘It could be bad or devastating’

A ferocious Hurricane Sandy barrelled down towards the US East Coast early Monday, threatening over 50 million people, bringing some of America’s busiest cities to a standstill and disrupting the presidential election campaign.

As of 5 am (2.30 pm India time) on Monday, the storm dubbed ‘Frankenstorm’ was centred about 385 miles southeast of New York City, moving to the north at 14 mph, with hurricane-force winds extending an incredible 175 miles from its centre.

The National Hurricane Center said early Monday the storm has intensified, with top sustained winds of 85 mph and higher gusts.

Hundreds of thousands were forced from their homes. New York City is at a standstill. Washington, DC, the nation’s capital, is emptied of government workers. And thousands of National Guard troops have been called up, according to various media reports.

The scenes were playing out early Monday from North Carolina to Maine, as forecasters warned that Sandy was likely to collide with a cold front and spawn a ‘superstorm’ that could generate flash floods, snowstorms and massive power outages, CNN reported.

‘It could be bad,’ US Coast Guard Rear Admiral Steven Rattior was quoted as saying, ‘or it could be devastation’.

The Washington region’s entire public transit system - Metro, Virginia Railway Express and the Maryland Transportation System - ceased operations Monday, leaving residents to either drive themselves to work or stay home.

Schools, colleges and universities shut their doors, in anticipation of power breakdowns and dangerous road conditions, and some announced they would be closed Tuesday and Wednesday as well.

Sandy strengthened before dawn and stayed on its predicted path toward Washington, Baltimore, Philadelphia and New York.

In New York, Mayor Michael R Bloomberg ordered the evacuation of more than 370,000 people in low-lying communities from Coney Island and Lower Manhattan, and authorities shut down the city’s schools and its subway system, effectively bringing the nation’s largest city to a near halt.

With 1.1 million schoolchildren given a day off Monday, New York city opened evacuation shelters at 76 public schools.

Even the New York Stock Exchange said it would close floor trading on Monday and move to an electronic-only system and major airlines cancelled thousands of flights in the northeast.

The United Nations cancelled all meetings at its headquarters in Manhattan as the hurricane centre said the surges could reach 11 feet in New York Harbour, Long Island Sound and Raritan Bay in New Jersey.

President Barack Obama, who had Sunday declared emergencies in several states, including Maryland, Virginia and New Jersey, as well as the capital city, cancelled plans to campaign in Florida, returning to Washington to oversee the hurricane response.

He also met officials at the headquarters of the Federal Emergency Management Agency in Washington and spoke with governors and mayors from North Carolina, New England and Ohio. [IANS]
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