President Barack Obama has declared a state of emergency in several states on the U.S. East Coast which are bracing for the approaching Hurricane Sandy and its potentially devastating impact.
In some rare moves, the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE), the NASDAQ stock market, and the U.N. headquarters in New York would remain closed on Monday and possibly Tuesday due to the storm.
Obama has warned Americans to take seriously the Hurricane that has already claimed at least 67 lives in the Caribbean, including 51 in Haiti, during the past week. The United States is anticipating possibly the worst "superstorm" in 100 years, when it collides with cold weather fronts from the west and north, which threatens roughly 50 million people in the eastern third of the country, reports say.
The White House said the President on Sunday signed the state of emergency declaration in the District of Columbia, Massachusetts, New York, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Rhode Island and New Jersey, which calls for federal aid to supplement the cities' response efforts to meet the emergency conditions.
Obama on Sunday visited the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to get briefed on preparations for days of severe weather in communities stretching from North Carolina to Maine.
Washington Mayor Vincent Gray, who had requested a federal emergency declaration, said local government distributed sandbags to residents and businesses and authorities had kept generators ready at major intersections in case traffic lights were knocked out.
Obama's action authorizes the Department of Homeland Security and FEMA to coordinate disaster relief efforts, fund, and to provide assistance for required emergency measures. The order clears the way for FEMA to mobilize and provide equipment and resources to help.
About 1,500 National Guard forces were on state active duty supporting the governors of New York, Massachusetts, Virginia, New Jersey, Delaware, Connecticut and Maryland, the Pentagon said.
Millions of Americans over a 700-mile stretch across eight states up and down the East Coast are already affected as schools are closed, businesses shuttered and transport services suspended. Authorities in Maryland, New York, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Virginia, Washington DC and a coastal county in North Carolina have declared state of emergency in anticipation of Sandy's arrival.
Public transport systems in Washington, Philadelphia and New York will remain suspended on Monday. All federal buildings as well as public schools in the capital city are closed for the day.
Residents are being told to hunker down - and wait. The Red Cross has set up multiple shelters across seven states where evacuees can find "a safe place, a warm meal and emotional support."
International travel has been badly affected across the country's northeast regions, where more than 7,600 flights from Europe and Asia were reportedly canceled. Air France, British Airways and Virgin Atlantic grounded Monday's transatlantic flights to and from East Coast cities, including New York, Baltimore, Newark, Washington DC, Boston and Philadelphia.
Crew of HMS Bounty have had to abandon the tall sailing ship off the coast of North Carolina in the path of Hurricane Sandy, reports quoting the US Coast Guard said.
The NYSE and the NASDAQ stock market will remain closed on Monday and possibly on Tuesday for ensuring the safety of its employees in the wake of the anticipated arrival of Hurricane Sandy. NYSE had previously planned to allow trading on its Arca electronic exchange and close only its physical trading floor, but it has now decided to halt all trading.
It is for the first time that the NYSE has closed trading on weather reasons since Hurricane Gloria lashed the metropolitan area in 1985. Also, the U.S. markets remained closed for four days following the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.
Hurricane Sandy, the 18th named storm of this year's Atlantic hurricane season, is expected to make landfall anywhere between Virginia and southern New England by late Monday or Tuesday morning.
According to the National Hurricane Center, the eye of the storm was about 385 miles south east of New York City as on 05:00 EDT on Monday. The storm is currently moving north-east parallel to the southeast U.S. coast at about 13 mph with maximum sustained winds of 85 mph (140 km/h).
Experts fear that it may develop into a super-storm when it makes landfall in the U.S. Eastern Seaboard later. Although Sandy is currently not as powerful as Hurricane Katrina, which devastated New Orleans in 2005, experts believe that it has the potential to be the largest tropical storm to strike the U.S.
Forecasters warn that the storm can bring torrential rains to some 12 U.S. states. They say the extreme weather condition may linger over the affected region between 24 and 36 hours due to its slow moving nature.
According to forecasters, Sandy could bring up to 25 cm of rain across the region as well as snow to some areas. They have also warned of "life-threatening" storm surge as high as 11 feet, prompting the evacuation of several low-lying areas in the Mid-Atlantic coast, including Long Island Sound and New York Harbor.
Sandy, labeled as "Frankenstorm" by the U.S. media, is expected to disrupt life in several U.S. states ahead of the November 6 presidential election.
Both President Obama and his Republican rival Mitt Romney have canceled some of their presidential campaign rallies. Romney is pulling out of an event in Virginia, while Obama canceled rallies in Ohio and Florida in order to return to Washington to monitor the storm.
"This is a serious and big storm. We don't yet know where it's going to hit, where we're going to see the biggest impacts," Obama said during a visit to the FEMA office in Washington on Sunday, adding that his government would "respond big and respond fast" after Sandy passes.
by RTT Staff Writer
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