East Coast Grinds to a Halt as Superstorm Sandy Nears
Hurricane Sandy began veering as predicted early Monday on a path that would take it over Washington, Baltimore, Philadelphia, and New York City.
The hurricane was strengthening and the center of the storm was forecast to move over the coast of U.S. mid-Atlantic states by Monday night, the U.S. National Hurricane Center said on Monday.
The NHC said on Monday the Category 1 storm had strengthened as it turned toward the coast and was moving at 20 miles per hour (32 km per hour). It was expected to bring a "life-threatening storm surge," coastal hurricane winds and heavy snow in the Appalachian Mountains.
By late morning, the storm's top winds had strengthened to 90 mph. It was about 200 miles southeast of Atlantic City, N.J., where the emptied-out streets were mostly under water and where an old section of the historic boardwalk broke up and washed away.
The superstorm could endanger 50 million people in the most heavily populated corridor in the nation, with forecasters warning that the New York area could get the worst of it — an 11-foot wall of water.
In a news conference, Maryland Governor Martin O'Malley said, "This is going to be a long haul. The days ahead are going to be very difficult. There will be people who die and are killed in this storm."
He added that the storm's impact on the state will be much more severe than previously thought just 24 hours ago.
President Barack Obama declared emergencies in several states including Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island, New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania, authorizing federal relief work to begin well ahead of time. He promised the government would "respond big and respond fast" to states and cities after the storm hits.
"My message to the governors as well as to the mayors is anything they need, we will be there, and we will cut through red tape," Obama said. "We are not going to get bogged down with a lot of rules."
Forecasting services indicated early Monday the center of the storm would strike the New Jersey shore near Atlantic City on Monday night. While Sandy does not pack the punch of Hurricane Katrina, which devastated New Orleans in 2005, it could become more potent as it approaches the U.S. coast.
"The time for preparing and talking is about over," Federal Emergency Management Administrator Craig Fugate said as Hurricane Sandy made its way up the Atlantic on a collision course with two other weather systems that could turn it into one of the most fearsome storms on record in the U.S. "People need to be acting now."
Airlines canceled more than 7,200 flights and Amtrak began suspending train service across the Northeast. New York, Philadelphia, Washington, and Baltimore moved to shut down their subways, buses and trains, and said schools would be closed on Monday. Boston also called off school. And all non-essential government offices closed in the nation's capital.
Utilities from the Carolinas to Maine reported late 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 Bayway plant in Linden, N.J., 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 crude 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.