Storm-hit New York braced for more weather chaos
Storm-battered New York and New Jersey ordered the evacuation of some areas devastated by deadly Superstorm Sandy as strong wind, rain and sleet threatened to lash the region today, closing parks and beaches and halting outside construction work.
The looming bad weather has New York and New Jersey on edge again as the US Northeast struggles to recover from former hurricane Sandy, which killed at least 120 in the United States and Canada when it struck on October 29 as a rare hybrid storm.
New York City has ordered the evacuation of some low-lying hard-hit areas, including the Rockaways section of Queens and the south shore of Staten Island - home to nearly half of the 40 people killed in New York City by Sandy - while residents of at least two New Jersey towns have also been told to leave.
Outside construction in New York will stop at noon and parks and beaches will also close then for 24 hours.
"High winds are likely to bring down more limbs or entire trees," New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg said today. "The waves are very dangerous and we don't need to send first responders into the ocean to save somebody who's being foolish."
The new storm was forecast to bring an inch (2.5 cm) of rain possibly mixing with sleet, winds gusts up to 80km per hour, and a surge of up to 1.4m, with coastal flooding expected late today.
Authorities were scrambling to clear tens of thousands of tonnes of debris from Superstorm Sandy amid fears it could produce deadly projectiles as the National Weather Service issued high wind and coastal flood warnings.
"I'm really concerned these freak weather events are going to become a permanent feature in this new world of climate change," said Corey Birtles, 37, an analyst who lost power in his Manhattan apartment for four days after Sandy. "These events do seem to be more severe and more regular in recent times."
Bloomberg endorsed President Barack Obama for a second term after Sandy struck, citing his record on climate change. He said whether climate change was to blame for a rise in severe weather events, it should compel leaders to act on the issue.
Sandy struck one week before the US elections, leading New Jersey to take the uncommon step of allowing storm-displaced voters to cast ballots by email or fax, while New Yorkers were able to vote at any polling place by presenting an affidavit.
Makeshift polling places were also set up, but some voters still faced chaotic scenes and long lines. Obama, who won New York and New Jersey, won re-election for a second term over Republican rival Mitt Romney.
On the devastated New Jersey shore, a summer tourist haven where Sandy's storm surge swallowed whole neighborhoods and pushed entire homes across the street, the town of Brick issued a mandatory evacuation order for waterfront neighborhoods ahead of Wednesday's storm. Middletown also ordered evacuations.
Bloomberg ordered the evacuation on Tuesday of more than 600 people from four healthcare centres in the ravaged Rockaways.
"These four facilities are in the most heavily-impacted area of the Rockaways and have been successfully operating on generator power. A Nor'easter storm surge could compromise their generators, putting elderly residents at risk," Bloomberg said.
But he stressed that the evacuations around the city today, which were designed to coincide with high tides when the storm surge would be highest, would not be as widespread as the mandatory evacuations around the city before Sandy struck.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency said it was working with state and local authorities and was "ready to deploy additional resources if needed to respond to the Nor'easter."
More than half a million homes and businesses in New Jersey and also 91,000 households in New York City that lost power during Sandy are were still waiting for it to be restored.
With overnight temperatures dropping to near freezing, the city said it would deliver 1,500 space heaters today to elderly residents in the Rockaways who have power, but no heat.
Many petrol stations still lacked electricity or fuel, and motorists endured long lines at the stations that were open. Fuel rationing was in force in New Jersey, where some residents hired school children to stand in line with petrol cans.
Authorities were due to reopen the Holland Tunnel linking Manhattan to New Jersey under the Hudson River, which will help alleviate massive traffic jams and overwhelming crowds on public transport systems that have yet to fully recover from Sandy.