The first deadly signs of Hurricane Sandy’s monstrous power were revealed as it barreled towards land on Monday – with snow falling, rivers breaching and floodwaters submerging cities across the East Coast.
Hurricane Sandy, which forecasters said could be the largest in U.S. history, strengthened overnight to nearly 1,000 miles wide with winds in excess of 85 miles per hour as it accelerated towards Washington, Baltimore, Philadelphia and New York.
The worst of the Category 1 storm is expected to bring a “life-threatening” surge of seawater up to 11 feet high, coastal hurricane winds and a barrage of heavy snow in the Appalachian Mountains.
Already the hurricane is showing its breathtaking power as hundreds of thousands of residents scrambled to higher ground, public transport systems shut down and thousands of flights across the country were cancelled.
The Hudson River which connects New Jersey and Manhattan’s west side has breached – already inflicting more damage than Hurricane Irene last year.
Across Norfolk, Virginia, residents were knee-deep in floodwaters as they travelled to work or scrambled to stock up on last-minute groceries. In the southeast of the state, tides are expected to run between five and eight feet above normal.
Floodwaters were also seeping into New York, with homes in Gilgo, Long Island becoming quickly submerged.
In Boone, North Carolina, snow began falling at 8:00 a.m.; the Appalachian mountain town is expected to suffer a miserable few days with snow, rain and temperatures struggling to get out of the 30s. Up to eight inches of snow is expected but, in places of higher elevation, there may be as many as 12.
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.
Hurricane Sandy has already killed at least 66 people – including 51 in Haiti – in the Caribbean before pounding U.S. coastal areas with rain.
But the New Jersey shore is expected to take the brunt of the massive weather front as Sandy hits near Atlantic City, which has already suffered heavy flooding, on Monday night and churns north, with 50 million people in its path.
Nine U.S. states have declared states of emergency with the National Guard poised to swoop in, and President Barack Obama has warned the nation to brace itself.
“This is a serious and big storm,” Barack Obama said after a briefing at the federal government’s storm response center in Washington.
“We don’t yet know where it’s going to hit, where we’re going to see the biggest impacts.”
Between 2:00 a.m. and 5:00 a.m. on Monday, winds increased by 10 mph to a maximum of 85 mph, the National Hurricane Center said. 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.
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.
Hurricane Sandy forced Barack 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.
Frankestorm 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 Michael Bloomberg advise 375,000 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 7:00 p.m. on Sunday for only the second time in history, meaning that almost 12 million people will be prevented from taking their usual route to work.
The MTA said the duration of the service suspension is “unknown” and that “service will be restored only when it is safe to do so, after careful inspections of all equipment and tracks”.
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.