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October 30, 2012

Hurricane Sandy: Storm blasts state, leaves New York City in the dark

NEW CASTLE — Sandy, the Atlantic Ocean superstorm, slammed into New Jersey Monday, killing 16, plunging millions into darkness, blacking out much of Manhattan south of the Empire State Building and claiming lives from North Carolina to New England.

The storm, 900 miles wide, drove floodwaters to life- threatening levels in a region with 60 million residents and stopped the U.S. presidential race eight days before Election Day. It shut government offices, prevented U.S. stock markets from opening and caused damage that may add up to billions of dollars. At least 3.6 million homes and businesses were without power as of 8 p.m. New York time Monday, the U.S. Energy Department said.

"I am not worried at this point about the impact on the election," said President Barack Obama, who returned to the White House Monday after canceling an appearance at a campaign rally in Orlando, Fla. "I am worried about the impact on families and I am worried about the impact on our first responders. I am worried about the impact on our economy and on transportation."

Sandy, now termed a post-tropical cyclone packing maximum sustained winds of 65 miles (105 kilometers) per hour, down from 75 mph earlier, was centered about 90 miles west of Philadelphia at 5 a.m. local time, according to the Maryland-based Hydrometeorological Prediction Center. The storm was moving west-northwest at 15 mph, and was expected to weaken steadily over the next two days and move north into western New York state later Tuesday. The cyclone will reach Canada Wednesday.

A flood gauge in New York City's Battery Park, at the southernmost end of Manhattan, registered 13.46 feet as of 8:30 p.m. The National Weather Service said the modern record was 10.02 feet in September 1960 during Hurricane Donna.

Power was lost in Manhattan "river to river," south of 35th Street, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg said in a press briefing. Some of the blackout was deliberate, as Consolidated Edison Co. shut off electricity to protect its underground equipment from potential damage, said Chris Olert, a spokesman for the company.

Sixteen deaths were reported in New Jersey, New York, Maryland, North Carolina, West Virginia, Pennsylvania and Connecticut, according to the Associated Press. Some of the victims were killed by falling trees; at least one death was attributed to the storm in Canada. The storm was blamed for 69 deaths in the Caribbean, the AP said.

Off North Carolina's Outer Banks, one person was killed and another was missing after the crew of the HMS Bounty, a replica of the vessel that was the scene of a 1789 mutiny, abandoned ship when it capsized in 18-foot seas. In New York's Queens borough, a tree fell on a house, trapping a 29-year-old man and killing him, emergency officials said.

Manhattan's streets were almost empty and storefronts were dark. On 57th Street, a crane on a 90-story residential building under construction partially collapsed and was dangling over the street. No injuries were reported.

Insured losses may exceed $6 billion in the U.S., led by costs in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Maryland and New York, according to estimates from Kinetic Analysis Corp. compiled by Bloomberg. As many as 10 million people may lose power, according to Seth Guikema, a Johns Hopkins University engineer.

Sandy may cause as much as $20 billion in economic damage and losses, according to Eqecat Inc., a risk-management company in Oakland, California.

Counting Monday's disruptions, airlines are flying about 12,500 fewer trips than they had planned in the 48 hours ending Tuesday, according to FlightAware, a Houston-based tracking company, and mass transit stopped in New York, parts of New Jersey, Boston, Philadelphia and Washington.

All U.S. equity markets, which were closed Monday, will be shut again Tuesday, the first shutdown for consecutive days due to weather since 1888. The Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association said bond trading would be suspended Tuesday.

Crude oil fell to a three-month low Monday while gasoline prices rose as East Coast refineries curbed operations. Both futures contracts reversed direction in electronic trading Tuesday.

Phillips 66, NuStar Energy and Hess shut or reduced output at three New Jersey refineries ahead of the storm's landfall. At least three other plants were running at reduced rates.

In Connecticut, Gov. Dannel Malloy, D, appealed to residents near the coast and low-lying areas to get to higher ground.

"Our worst fears are being reached," Malloy said at a news briefing. "Thousands of people are stranded" by rising water.

In New London, on Long Island Sound, Mayor Daryl Finizio told WFSB television that Sandy was worse than the Great New England Hurricane of 1938. That storm, which produced tides of as much as 25 feet, killed 564 and injured more than 1,700 people, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

In New York, Mayor Bloomberg, the founder and majority owner of Bloomberg News parent Bloomberg LP, issued evacuation orders for 375,000 people and opened 76 shelters. The Lincoln Tunnel to New Jersey was the only major crossing in and out of Manhattan by about 8:30 p.m. Monday. The Brooklyn-Battery and Holland tunnels shut because of flood risks, and high winds closed the George Washington and Verrazano bridges.

Frank Sciortino, co-owner of Knapp Street Pizza in Brooklyn's Coney Island, opened his restaurant Monday morning and said he planned to keep making pies until 11 p.m.

"If the power goes out, my ovens are gas," said Sciortino, 29, whose family has owned the space since 1994. "People have to eat."

Sciortino took no precautions, calling his preparation for Hurricane Irene, which wracked the region 14 months ago, a "waste of time."

In Wilmington, Del., the usually busy Northeast Boulevard looked like a ghost town Monday as a statewide driving ban took effect. At the Hi-Way Liquors and Shades of Blue Bar & Lounge, neon signs advertising Coors, Miller's and Beck's beer provided a glow of primary colors in the near- darkness of midday.

"We've got a few people coming in," said manager James Mason, 71, through a thick plastic barrier of bulletproof glass. "We're going to close early; I'm open because the boss said so." No customers were in the store.

In New Jersey, Gov. Chris Christie, R, ordered evacuations of coastal barrier islands and casinos in Atlantic City, which was flooded. A large number of people were stranded as water levels rose. Christie said further evacuations from Atlantic City and the barrier island would be impossible until daylight.

"For those of you who are on the barrier islands who decided it was better idea to wait this out than to evacuate, and for those elected officials who decided to ignore my admonition, this is now your responsibility," Christie said at a 5:35 p.m. news briefing. "Evacuations are no longer possible."

A 21-member search-and-rescue team will be sent to Atlantic City starting at daybreak Tuesday. Another team with 40 members and 10 boats, based in Lakehurst, will be dispatched to other barrier islands. About 130 miles of the 172-mile Garden State Parkway were closed.

Lori Emma, 40, of Bellmawr, checked into a motel near Wildwood Monday after she and her boyfriend, Steve Papai, 39, traveled there to check on a 1950s bungalow he owns. By late morning, water had reached the front door. Papai said he expected the one-story home to be completely submerged.

Owning the vacation home had been "a dream," Emma said.

"It's out of my hands now," Papai said. "All we can do now is just wait it out and watch till it's over."

Cory Booker, mayor of Newark, the state's largest city, said he had packed his car with water and diapers to deliver them to people in need.

"I need to keep people safe for the next 36 hours as this storm rages," Booker said in an interview on Bloomberg Television.

The storm is also affecting the Nov. 6 elections. Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney canceled appearances.

"Governor Romney believes this is a time for the nation and its leaders to come together to focus on those Americans who are in harm's way," spokeswoman Gail Gitcho said in a statement.

For many residents of Washington, Sandy provided a break from the nonstop election frenzy.

Though rain fell steadily in the nation's capital all day Monday, winds were modest into the afternoon. At East Potomac Park on Hains Point, a peninsula in the Potomac River, Kelli Valentine filmed her friend Angela Hudson parodying television newscasts.

"This is Mother Nature as you've never seen her!" Hudson shouted, laughing, as the wind tried to rip an umbrella out of her hand. "Massive flooding, look!" she said, pointing to a puddle on the sidewalk. Ducks bobbed on white-tipped waves in the river behind her.

 

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