SHAFAQNA (Shia International News Association)– As Superstorm Sandy marched slowly inland, millions along the East Coast awoke Tuesday without power or mass transit, with huge swaths of the nation's largest city unusually vacant and dark.
New York was among the hardest hit, with its financial heart in Lower Manhattan shuttered for a second day and seawater cascading into the still-gaping construction pit at the World Trade Center. President Barack Obama declared a major disaster in the city and Long Island.
The storm that made landfall in New Jersey on Monday evening with 80 mph sustained winds killed at least 16 people in seven states, cut power to more than 7.4 million homes and businesses from the Carolinas to Ohio, caused scares at two nuclear power plants and stopped the presidential campaign cold.
The massive storm reached well into the Midwest: Chicago officials warned residents to stay away from the Lake Michigan shore as the city prepares for winds of up to 60 mph and waves exceeding 24 feet well into Wednesday.
"This will be one for the record books," said John Miksad, senior vice president for electric operations at Consolidated Edison, which had more than 670,000 customers without power in and around New York City.
An unprecedented 13-foot surge of seawater — 3 feet above the previous record — gushed into Gotham, inundating tunnels, subway stations and the electrical system that powers Wall Street, and sent hospital patients and tourists scrambling for safety. Skyscrapers swayed and creaked in winds that partially toppled a crane 74 stories above Midtown.
Right before dawn, a handful of taxis were out on the streets, though there was an abundance of emergency and police vehicles.
Remnants of the former Category 1 hurricane were forecast to head across Pennsylvania before taking another sharp turn into western New York by Wednesday morning. Although weakening as it goes, the massive storm — which caused wind warnings from Florida to Canada — will continue to bring heavy rain and local flooding, said Daniel Brown, warning coordination meteorologist at the National Hurricane Center in Miami.
As Hurricane Sandy closed in on the Northeast, it converged with a cold-weather system that turned it into a monstrous hybrid of rain and high wind — and even snow in West Virginia and other mountainous areas inland.
Just before it made landfall at 8 p.m. near Atlantic City, N.J., forecasters stripped Sandy of hurricane status — but the distinction was purely technical, based on its shape and internal temperature. It still packed hurricane-force wind, and forecasters were careful to say it was still dangerous to the tens of millions in its path.
While the hurricane's 90 mph winds registered as only a Category 1 on a scale of five, it packed "astoundingly low" barometric pressure, giving it terrific energy to push water inland, said Kerry Emanuel, a professor of meteorology at MIT.
Officials blamed at least 16 deaths on the converging storms — five in New York, three each in New Jersey and Pennsylvania, two in Connecticut, and one each in Maryland, North Carolina and West Virginia. Three of the victims were children, one just 8 years old.
Sandy, which killed 69 people in the Caribbean before making its way up the Eastern Seaboard, began to hook left at midday Monday toward the New Jersey coast. Even before it made landfall, crashing waves had claimed an old, 50-foot piece of Atlantic City's world-famous Boardwalk.
"We are looking at the highest storm surges ever recorded" in the Northeast, said Jeff Masters, meteorology director for Weather Underground, a private forecasting service.
Sitting on the dangerous northeast wall of the storm, the New York metropolitan area got the worst of it.
An explosion at a ConEdison substation knocked out power to about 310,000 customers in Manhattan, said Miksad.
"We see a pop. The whole sky lights up," said Dani Hart, 30, who was watching the storm from the roof of her building in the Navy Yards.
"It sounded like the Fourth of July," Stephen Weisbrot said from his 10th-floor apartment.
New York University's Tisch Hospital was forced to evacuate 200 patients after its backup generator failed. NYU Medical Dean Robert Grossman said patients — among them 20 babies from neonatal intensive care that were on battery-powered respirators — had to be carried down staircases and to dozens of waiting ambulances.
Not only was the subway shut down, but the Holland Tunnel connecting New York to New Jersey was closed, as was a tunnel between Brooklyn and Manhattan. The Brooklyn Bridge, the George Washington Bridge, the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge and several other spans were closed due to high winds.
A construction crane atop a $1.5 billion luxury high-rise in midtown Manhattan collapsed in high winds and dangled precariously. Thousands of people were ordered to leave several nearby buildings as a precaution, including 900 guests at the ultramodern Le Parker Meridien hotel.
Alice Goldberg, 15, a tourist from Paris, was watching television in the hotel — whose slogan is "Uptown, Not Uptight" — when a voice came over the loudspeaker and told everyone to leave.
"They said to take only what we needed, and leave the rest, because we'll come back in two or three days," she said as she and hundreds of others gathered in the luggage-strewn marble lobby. "I hope so."
Trading at the New York Stock Exchange was canceled again Tuesday — the first time the exchange suspended operations for two consecutive days due to weather since an 1888 blizzard struck the city.
Fire destroyed at least 50 homes Monday night in a flooded neighborhood in the Breezy Point section of the borough of Queens, where the Rockaway peninsula juts into the Atlantic Ocean. Firefighters told WABC-TV that they had to use a boat to rescue residents because the water was chest high on the street. About 25 people were trapped in one home, with two injuries reported.
Airlines canceled around 12,500 flights because of the storm, a number that was expected to grow.
Off North Carolina, not far from an area known as "the Graveyard of the Atlantic," a replica of the 18th-century sailing ship HMS Bounty that was built for the 1962 Marlon Brando movie "Mutiny on the Bounty" sank when her diesel engine and bilge pumps failed. Coast Guard helicopters plucked 14 crew members from rubber lifeboats bobbing in 18-foot seas.
A 15th crew member who was found unresponsive several hours after the others was later pronounced dead. The Bounty's captain was still missing.
One of the units at Indian Point, a nuclear power plant about 45 miles north of New York City, was shut down around 10:45 p.m. Monday because of external electrical grid issues, said Entergy Corp., which operates the plant. The company said there was no risk to employees or the public.
And officials declared an "unusual event" at the Oyster Creek nuclear power plant in Lacey Township, N.J., the nation's oldest, when waters surged to 6 feet above sea level during the evening. Within two hours, the situation at the reactor — which was offline for regular maintenance — was upgraded to an alert, the second-lowest in a four-tiered warning system. Oyster Creek provides 9 percent of the state's electricity.
In Baltimore, fire officials said four unoccupied rowhouses collapsed in the storm, sending debris into the street but causing no injuries. Meanwhile, a blizzard in far western Maryland caused a pileup of tractor-trailers that blocked the westbound lanes of Interstate 68 on slippery Big Savage Mountain near the town of Finzel.
"It's like a long-tailed cat in a room full of rocking chairs up here," said Bill Wiltson, a Maryland State Police dispatcher.
Hundreds of miles from the storm's center, gusts topping 60 mph prompted officials to close the port of Portland, Maine, and scaring away several cruise ships. A state of emergency in New Hampshire prompted Vice President Joe Biden to cancel a rally in Keene and Republican nominee Mitt Romney's wife, Ann, to call off her bus tour through the Granite State.
About 360,000 people in 30 Connecticut towns were urged to leave their homes under mandatory and voluntary evacuation orders. Christi McEldowney was among those who fled to a Fairfield shelter. She and other families brought tents for their children to play in.
"There's something about this storm," she said. "I feel it deep inside."
Despite dire warnings and evacuation orders that began Saturday, many stayed put.
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie — whose own family had to move to the executive mansion after his home in Mendham, far from the storm's center, lost power — criticized the mayor of Atlantic City for opening shelters there instead of forcing people out.
Eugenia Buono, 77, and her neighbor, Elaine DiCandio, 76, were among several dozen people who took shelter at South Kingstown High School in Narragansett, R.I. They live on Harbor Island, which is connected to the mainland by a causeway.
"I'm not an idiot," said Buono, who survived hurricanes Carol in 1954 and Bob in 1991. "People are very foolish if they don't leave."
SHAFAQNA (Shia International News Association) — Power failed across a large swath of western Cuba on Sunday night, plunging millions of people into darkness, including those in the capital of Havana and at the popular beach resort of Varadero.
The outage knocked out air-conditioning units and electric fans on a sweltering late-summer Caribbean night. Other cities in central and eastern Cuba also had outages, but for only brief spans.
"We were on our balcony waiting for our TV program," said Richard Laredo, a 47-year-old Havana resident who quickly transferred food from the refrigerator to the freezer. "Nobody knows what happened, but people are worried about what they have in their refrigerators."
There was no immediate word on what caused the blackout, which struck a little after 8 p.m. in the middle of the nightly news on state television, and was still mostly out in the capital more than three hours later.
Calls to the electrical system's headquarters met busy signals. Officials in the national government were not immediately able to offer an explanation.
State radio said power was gradually being restored, but urged people not to use power-hungry appliances.
Lights were back on in at least one eastern Havana suburb after about 2½ hours. Havana's international airport reported that it had power and was continuing operations.
In the capital, home to about two million people, the lights went out in a 40-kilometre stretch from Havana's western residential neighbourhoods across the city's centre and Old Havana district and on to suburbs on the other side of the bay. In the Vedado entertainment and business district, the only buildings with visible light were tourist hotels and upscale apartment towers, which have backup generators.
Santiago outages quickly fixed
Problems extended well beyond Havana's city limits, including in the popular tourist resort of Varadero, where power was restored after about two hours.
"We are on our generators, but our guests are not having any problems," a receptionist at the Arenas Doradas hotel in Varadero said before the outage ended.
Outages that began at the same time as Havana's were reported as far away as Santiago, the country's second-largest metropolis, about 740 kilometres away at the other end of the island. The power in Santiago returned after only a few minutes, however. Electricity was out for about 20 minutes in the central cities of Ciego de Avila and Santa Clara. The western city of Pinar del Rio was also without power.
Big blackouts were common in Havana in the 1990s when Cuba was dealing with an energy crisis, and again in the middle of the last decade. But while isolated outages still hit the city on occasion, blackouts of this scope have become rare.—www.shafaqna.com/English
SHAFAQNA (Shia International News Association) — A massive power outage plunged northern India into darkness and stranded thousands of travellers on trains Monday after a supply grid tripped because of overloading, officials said.
Trains across eight northern Indian states and metro services in New Delhi were affected by the power outage that struck at about 2:30 a.m. local time.
Hospitals and emergency services were running on diesel generators.
People, woken from sleep, came out of their homes in New Delhi's sweltering heat as the entire city turned dark.
It could take up to 12 hours to fully restore the electricity supply in the eight northern states, including New Delhi, Punjab, Haryana and Rajasthan, the chairman of the state-run Uttar Pradesh state Power Corporation Avinash Awasthi said.
The power grid collapsed because some states apparently drew more power than they were authorized to do to meet the rising demand during the summer, Awasthi said, adding that Monday's outage was the worst to hit the country in 11 years.
Blackouts are a frequent occurrence in many Indian cities because of shortage of power supply and an antiquated electricity grid.
Two weeks ago, angry crowds blocked traffic and clashed with police after power blackouts in the Delhi suburb of Gurgaon that houses many high-rise apartment blocks and offices. With no power in some neighbourhoods for more than 24 hours, people erected blockades that paralyzed traffic for several hours.
Transmission and distribution losses in some states are as much as 50 per cent because of theft and connivance of employees in the power distribution sector.—www.shafaqna.com/english