Hurricane Sandy heads for US, kills 38 in Caribbean
MIAMI – Hurricane Sandy rumbled toward the US east coast Friday threatening as much as a third of the United States with what has been dubbed a powerful “Frankenstorm,” after leaving 38 dead in the Caribbean.
While Sandy lashed the Bahamas with heavy rains and high waves, forecasters looked to next week, when the storm could collide with a seasonal “nor’easter” weather system that would super-charge it while dragging it west onto land.
Before then, Sandy will amble up the coast as a huge, slow-moving system while the eastern United States braces for huge tidal surges, power outages, inland flooding and even heavy snowfall on high ground far from the coast.
As emergency response teams and frightened families stocked up on essential supplies, meteorologists said Sandy could affect as much as third of the country, from the Carolinas up to New England and as far inland as Ohio.
“It is going to be a challenging storm,” Federal Emergency Management Agency administrator Craig Fugate said, as officials warned it was too early to say when and where the storm will make its initial landfall.
“We know somebody is going to get hit. We just cannot say who that somebody is going to be,” said James Franklin, branch chief of the Miami-based National Hurricane Center (NHC), during a telephone press conference Friday.
Meteorologists have nicknamed the unusual confluence of weather patterns a “Frankenstorm,” because it will hit right before Halloween on October 31 and is composed of parts from different sources, as was Frankenstein’s Monster.
The sprawling US Navy base in Norfolk, Virginia said it was sending an entire fleet of ships out to sea to get out of the way of the storm.
Further north, the mayor of New York, Michael Bloomberg, said the city was ready for anything Sandy can throw at the city, and cautioned against panic.
Authorities in the states of Maryland, New York, Pennsylvania, Virginia, the US capital Washington and a coastal county in North Carolina declared a state of emergency, directing officials to speed up storm preparations.
One quirk of Sandy is that whereas most hurricanes tend to drift east after making landfall, this one could head inland because of a separate weather system high up in the atmosphere and far north, over southeast Canada.
Louis Uccellini, director of the National Centers for Environmental Prediction, said the danger of coastal flooding was higher because Sandy will strike during a full moon, when tides are already at their highest.
Sandy could last through several tidal cycles and cause repeated flooding.
In a bulletin at 0000 GMT, the NHC said Sandy was about 400 miles (645 kilometers) south-southeast of Charleston, South Carolina, with maximum sustained winds of 75 miles per hour.
In some areas of the Bahamas and then later in Florida and elsewhere in the United States, flood waters could reach three to five feet in depth if the peak surge coincides with high tide.
The Caribbean island chain reported power and phone lines downed, tourists stranded and trees uprooted. Schools, government offices, airports and bridges were to remain closed Friday.
The storm was downgraded late Thursday to a category one hurricane on the five-point Saffir-Simpson wind scale.
It will hit during the frenzied final week of campaigning before the November 6 US presidential vote.
Concern is mounting that storm damage and power outages could have a major impact on voter turnout, polling station readiness, and last-minute campaigning by Romney and Obama.
US Vice President Joe Biden canceled a Saturday appearance in Virginia Beach to allow officials to focus on storm preparations.
Sandy earlier claimed 11 lives in eastern Cuba, including several who died in the rubble of buildings that collapsed in the fury of the massive storm.
The hurricane damaged hundreds of homes, flooding crops and downing trees, according to media reports.
On Wednesday, Sandy unleashed its wrath on Jamaica, where one person died, and on Haiti, where 26 people died.
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