Hurricane Sandy: 'Frankenstorm' havoc to batter US
More than 60 million Americans are braced for the impact of Hurricane Sandy after forecasters said it could be the biggest storm ever to hit the US mainland.
The enormous weather system, called 'Frankenstorm' because of its arrival on the eve of Halloween, is predicted to be of historic proportions when it makes landfall on the east coast tonight.
US President Barack Obama said the storm was "serious and big", and also warned that it was "unique" because it was so slow moving.
Mr Obama urged Americans to "pull together".
He added: "This hasn't hit landfall yet so we don't yet know where it's going to hit, where we're going to see the biggest impact. That's why it's important that we respond big and respond fast. We have to take this seriously."
Asked whether the storm may affect early voting in the November 6 presidential election, Mr Obama said: "We don't anticipate that at this point, but we're obviously going to have to take a look."
Michael Bloomberg, the New York mayor, ordered the evacuation of 375,000 people yesterday and the closure of schools. A total of 72 shelters have been set up in the city, while its public transport system is being effectively shut down.
Mr Bloomberg also ordered the evacuation of part of lower Manhattan, adding: "If you don't evacuate, you are not only endangering your life, you are also endangering the lives of the first responders who are going in to rescue you. This is a serious and dangerous storm."
New York's rail, subway and bus services, which are used by 8.5 million people daily, are being suspended. The New York Stock Exchange said it would operate normally today.
The storm is expected to hit an 800-mile-wide swathe of north-east America including the cities of New York, Washington, Boston, Baltimore and Philadelphia, bringing 80mph winds.
The National Hurricane Centre warned of a "life-threatening storm surge" that could cause record flooding on the coast from Delaware to southern New England.
States of emergency have been declared by governors from North Carolina to Connecticut, a state which has been warned to expect its worst flooding in 70 years.
Chris Christie, the New Jersey governor, ordered casinos in Atlantic City to shut and the gambling hub's 30,000 residents were being bussed to shelters.
Thousands of domestic and international flights into east-coast airports have been cancelled. More than 700 were cancelled yesterday and a further 2,500 today. Air France dropped all flights to New York and Washington today. Airlines also moved planes away from east coast airports. More than 60,000 National Guard troops in nine states have been put on standby.
Just over a week before the US presidential election, Mr Obama cancelled two campaign appearances so he can monitor events from Washington. The storm is threatening to throw the final week of the campaign into chaos.
Sandy has already left at least 66 people dead on its passage through the Caribbean, including 51 who died amid flooding in Haiti. Eleven people were reported dead in Cuba.
Yesterday the centre of the storm was about 260 miles south-east of Cape Hatteras, North Carolina. It was moving north parallel to the US coast at about 10mph, but was expected to make a tight turn to the west last night, moving over land.
Its 'Frankenstorm' name also refers to the prediction that it will see three weather systems combining in what forecasters said would be a rare, hybrid "super storm". Sandy is expected to join with a wintry storm coming from the west, and also an Arctic blast from the north that will "supercharge" it and send it inland as far as Ohio.
Its winds will not be overwhelming for a hurricane but its width is exceptional and it will linger several days, forecasters said.
Hurricane-force winds extend 175 miles (280 km) from its centre, and lesser tropical storm-force winds span 1,040 miles in diameter. It was not expected to strengthen but was expected to broaden.
Jeff Masters, a hurricane specialist with Weather Underground, said the storm could be bigger than the worst east coast storm on record, the 1938 New England hurricane known as the Long Island Express, which killed nearly 800 people. (© Daily Telegraph, London)