East Coast Takes a Beating as Sandy Nears Landfall
Sandy battered the U.S. East Coast on Monday with fierce winds and driving rain, as the monster storm shut down transportation, shuttered businesses and sent thousands scrambling for higher ground.
Forecasters say Sandy is "moving quickly" and should make landfall by around 8pm ET Monday in southern New Jersey or Delaware.
In its 7pm ET update, the National Hurricane Center downgraded the storm to a post-tropical cyclone and said it's losing strength but the storm still has sustained winds of 85 mph.
The eye has almost made landfall and is headed for New Jersey and Delaware.
Sandy was set to collide with a wintry storm from the west and cold air streaming down from the Arctic. The combination superstorm could menace some 50 million people in the most heavily populated corridor in the nation, from the East Coast to the Great Lakes.
New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg told residents Monday evening to "stay put" and that the time for evacuation and relocation was over. Con Edison, the power company, has also shut down power in parts of lower Manhattan to lessen damage from flooding sea waters.
New Jersey's famously blunt Gov. Chris Christie also issued a warning to those who didn't evacuate as ordered. "For those who are on the barrier islands who decided it was a better idea to wait this out than to evacuate, for those elected officials who decided to ignore my admonition, this is now your responsibility," he said Monday evening.
"If you're still able to hear me, we need you to hunker down and get to the highest point possible in the dwelling that you are in. We will not be able to come help you until daylight tomorrow."
More than a million customers already were without power by early evening Monday and millions more could lose electricity. One disaster forecasting company predicted economic losses could ultimately reach $20 billion, only half of it insured.
All U.S. stock markets were closed on Monday and will remain closed on Tuesday, according to a NYSE Euronext statement. This marks the first weather-related closure for the markets in 27 years.
The company plans to re-open the markets on Wednesday "conditions permitting" and will provide further updates on Tuesday.
The hurricane-force winds blew over a construction crane on top of a luxury high-rise building in Manhattan, leaving the crane dangling off the edge of the building. The incident, at a building called One57 on West 57th Street, prompted a huge emergency response. New York City officials ordered people in neighboring buildings to move to lower floors.
The building is known as one of the priciest ever in New York. A six-bedroom penthouse at the building is under contract for a reported $90 million. The building recently made headlines for tax breaks from a program aimed at low-income housing. (Read more: Billionaires Get 'Low-Income' Tax Breaks in Condo Tower)
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.
State governors warned of the acute danger from the winds and torrential rains.
"There will undoubtedly be some deaths that are caused by the intensity of this storm, by the floods, by the tidal surge, by the waves. The more responsibly citizens act, the fewer people will die," Maryland Governor Martin O'Malley told reporters.
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.
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.
As rain from the leading edges of the monster hurricane began to fall over the Northeast, hundreds of thousands of people from Maryland to Connecticut were ordered to evacuate low-lying coastal areas, including 375,000 in lower Manhattan and other parts of New York City, 50,000 in Delaware and 30,000 in Atlantic City, N.J., where the city's 12 casinos were forced to shut down for only the fourth time ever.
"We were told to get the heck out. I was going to stay, but it's better to be safe than sorry," said Hugh Phillips, who was one of the first in line when a Red Cross shelter in Lewes, Del., opened at noon.
"I think this one's going to do us in," said Mark Palazzolo, who 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 and spray-painting "Sandy" next to them. "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.'"