Sandy has already killed 66 people in the Caribbean before pounding U.S. coastal areas with rain and triggering snow falls on higher ground. It does not yet pack the punch of Hurricane Katrina, which devastated New Orleans in 2005, but could become more powerful as it approaches the U.S. coast, experts said.
Winds increased to a maximum of 85mph, up from 75mph three hours earlier, the National Hurricane Center said in its 5am EST report. Landfall is expected between late Monday and early Tuesday, with Google providing a tracking map to show the storm’s progress.
Forecasters said Sandy, dubbed ‘Frankenstorm’, could surge to a ‘super storm’ as it joins an Arctic jet stream, sparking flash floods and snow storms – and making it unlike anything seen over the eastern United States in decades.
‘The last time we saw anything like this was never,’ Connecticut Governor Dannel Malloy said on Sunday. ‘I don’t know how to say it any clearer than that it is the largest threat to human life our state has experienced in anyone’s lifetime.’
New Jersey Governor Chris Christie added: ‘Don’t be stupid. Get out!’
New York and other cities and towns have closed their transit systems and ordered mass evacuations from low-lying areas ahead of the storm surge.
Classes were cancelled on Monday for more than two million public school students in New York, Philadelphia, Boston and Baltimore, while universities and government offices in states including Washington and New Jersey were shut down.
In Oak Orchard, Delaware, rescue efforts by the National Guard and local authorities were already underway for residents who had failed to heed the mandatory evacuation issued over the weekend. Across Virginia towns, residents were knee-deep in floodwaters as they travelled to work.
All U.S. 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 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 November 6 election.
The United Nations, Broadway theaters, New Jersey casinos, schools up and down the Eastern Seaboard, and myriad corporate events were also being shut down on Monday.
Residents along the New Jersey coast were warned they may not survive Hurricane Sandy if they do not evacuate low-lying areas.
The National Weather Service issued the stark warning last night as the massive weather front surged closer to the East Coast.
A statement read: ‘If you are reluctant [to evacuate], think about your loved ones…think about the rescue/recovery teams who will rescue you if you are injured or recover your remains if you do not survive.’
About 50 million people from the Mid-Atlantic to Canada are in the path of the 1,000-mile-wide monster, which is expected to topple trees, damage buildings, cause power outages and trigger heavy flooding.
Many workers planned to stay home on Monday, while thousands of flights into and out of the U.S. northeast were grounded on as airports closed, stranding passengers from Hong Kong to Europe.
The massive storm threatens to bring a near halt to air travel for at least two days in a key region for both domestic and international flights.
The storm is also expected to inflict power outages along the east coast, with officials already expressing fears that homes and businesses could be without power for days. ‘We could be talking about weeks,’ Connecticut Governor Dannel Malloy warned.
Officials told residents to head for higher ground as evacuations were ordered on the East Coast including a mandatory one for New York City which saw Mayor Bloomberg advise375,000 people to leave low-lying areas.
Buses were no longer running and flights in and out of the city cancelled. More than 7,000 flights have been cancelled so far – already leaving a backlog of tens of thousands.
The New York subway closed at 7pm on Sunday for only the second time in history, meaning that almost 12million people will be prevented from taking their usual route to work.
Transport officials warned: ‘Even with minimal damage this is expected to be a lengthy process.’
The New York Stock Exchange said on Sunday it is putting in place contingency plans and will announce later when the trading floor will reopen. It is the first time in 27 years the NYSE has been forced to close due to the weather.
A blizzard led to a late start and an early close on January 8, 1996. The NYSE shut down on March 27, 1985 for Hurricane Gloria. Since the Great Depression, the longest suspension in trading at the NYSE occurred after 9/11 when the exchange closed for four days.
The sheer size of the storm meant its effects would be felt from the mid-Atlantic states to New England. Officials issued warnings meant to reduce the risk of mass casualties as the National Guard was deployed to New York City.
All along the U.S. coast worried residents packed into stores, buying generators, candles, food and other supplies in anticipation of power outages.
‘They’re freaking out,’ said Joe Dautel, a clerk at a hardware store in Glenside, Pennsylvania. ‘I’m selling people four, five, six packs of batteries – when I had them.’
Mark Palazzolo, who has boarded up his bait-and-tackle shop in Point Pleasant Beach, N.J with the same wood he used in past storms, crossing out the names of Hurricanes Isaac and Irene, said: ‘I think this one’s going to do us in.
‘I got a call from a friend of mine from Florida last night who said, “Mark, get out! If it’s not the storm, it’ll be the aftermath. People are going to be fighting in the streets over gasoline and food.”‘
Obama met with federal emergency officials for an update on the Category 1 storm’s path and the danger it poses to the Mid-Atlantic and New England.
‘My main message to everybody involved is that we have to take this seriously,’ said Obama. He urged people to ‘listen to your local officials.’
The President said emergency officials were confident that staging for the storm was in place.
To help direct any response to the damage caused by Sandy, Governor Andrew Cuomo has directed the New York Army and Air National Guard to mobilize in response to Hurricane Sandy.
Cuomo said the Guard will deploy up to 1,175 troops starting on Sunday. They’ll help local authorities respond to storm damage in New York City, Long Island, the Hudson Valley and the Southern Tier.
On Sunday, 200 New York Army National Guard soldiers were deployed to New York City. By 6pm Monday, Cuomo said 250 soldiers and 150 airmen would be in place on Long Island.
Another 200 soldiers will go on duty Monday at armories in Binghamton, Walton, and Horseheads in the Southern Tier. Statewide, another 150 soldiers and airmen will be mobilized to provide command and control and logistical support.
If forecasts hold, and especially if the storm surge coincides with high tide, the effects should be much more severe for the city said Klaus Jacob, a Columbia University researcher who has advised the city on coastal risks.
While the storm may not be the worst-case scenario, Jacob said he expected the subway system, as well as underground electrical systems and neighborhoods in Lower Manhattan, to be at least partially flooded.
Governor Cuomo said: ‘The transportation system is the lifeblood of the New York City region, and suspending all service is not a step I take lightly.
‘But keeping New Yorkers safe is the first priority, and the best way to do that is to make sure they are out of harm’s way before gale-force winds can start wreaking havoc on trains and buses.’
The service is expected to resume operations about 12 hours after the storm ends, officials said at the news conference – which would put services on track to resume for Tuesday afternoon.
The Atlantic City Rail Line also suspended operations at 4pm Sunday due to the rapidly deteriorating weather conditions and the continued evacuation of Atlantic City.
The measures announced in New York City come as governors from North Carolina to Connecticut declared states of emergency ahead of Sandy’s arrival
As Hurricane Sandy trekked north from the Caribbean to meet two other powerful winter storms, experts said it didn’t matter how strong the storm was when it hit land.
‘This storm that is going to be impacting the mid-Atlantic and parts of the Northeast…is going to be destructive, historic, and unfortunately life threatening,’ AccuWeather’s Bernie Rayno said to ABC News.