Usually when a hurricane is wreaking havoc, people in the Cayman Islands field phone calls, texts, e-mails and tweets.
Monday and Tuesday the people here were staying in touch with friends and relatives along the northeast as superstorm Sandy roared onto shore.
Millions of people from Maine to the Carolinas awoke Tuesday without electricity, and an eerily quiet New York City was all but closed off by car, train and air as superstorm Sandy steamed inland, still delivering punishing wind and rain. The US death toll climbed to 33, many of the victims killed by falling trees.
Kimberly Fellman, who grew up in Grand Cayman, rode out the storm in her East Williamsburg, Brooklyn, home, which is roughly a 15 minute subway ride from the centre of Manhattan.
“The storm itself wasn’t too bad wind and rain wise, but the surge was very intense,” she said. “Conditions now in North Brooklyn are fair. Most of Manhattan south of the 20’s is completely powerless because of a transformer explosion. Right now there is no TV or Internet, so those of us with power are counting on spotty cell service to stay informed. There are a lot of rumours about conditions, but we did hear the MTA report of major flooding in the subways, which will definitely disrupt mass transit for a bit.
“For now we are just staying put. The rain and wind seem to be over, but there is a lot of debris and a strong burning smell in the air. New Yorkers are resourceful and know how to hang tough, so we’ll be just fine.”
In Charles Town, West Virginia, about an hour west of Washington, DC, Scarlett Brammer, whose husband Jeff works for Cayman Free Press, was off from work Monday and watched as hours of high winds and heavy rain pelted the Eastern Panhandle of the state, but left most in the immediate area unscathed with little more than a deluge of wet weather. Schools remained closed on Tuesday and West Virginia Governor Earl Ray Tomblin had declared a state of emergency ahead of a storm that threatened to bring flooding and dump as much as three feet of snow on the state’s highest ridge tops, where there are mainly ski resorts and sparsely populated areas.
Mrs. Brammer, a former massage therapist at The Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman who owns a home in Charles Town and works in nearby Leesburg, Virginia, said her neighbourhood in the mid-Atlantic state appeared to have dodged a bullet despite feeling the wrath of an impressively large late-season storm that wreaked havoc on low-lying coastal areas, but spared many regions farther inland.
“Unless I missed something, nothing really happened here,” she said. “Just a rainstorm. So much hype, but we still have electricity today and I’ve got to go back to work.”
Vicki Turton who lives in Rutherford, New Jersey, and has a home in North Side on Grand Cayman said she experienced high winds during the storm, but was spared flooding.
The full extent of the damage in New Jersey, where the storm roared ashore Monday night with hurricane force, was unclear. Police and fire officials, some with their own departments flooded, fanned out to rescue hundreds.
“We are in the midst of urban search and rescue. Our teams are moving as fast as they can,” Gov. Chris Christie said. “The devastation on the Jersey Shore is some of the worst we’ve ever seen. The cost of the storm is incalculable at this point.”
As many as 8.1 million people across the East were without power. Airlines cancelled more than 15,000 flights around the world, and it could be days before the mess is untangled and passengers can get where they’re going.
The storm also put the White House campaign on hold just a week before Election Day. President Barack Obama cancelled a third straight day of campaigning, scratching events scheduled for Wednesday in swing state Ohio, which got clobbered by Sandy’s winds as the storm pushed west.
In West Virginia, a blizzard generated by Sandy dropped almost two feet of snow on some areas and was expected to intensify before it got better, The Weather Channel reported.
New York was among the hardest hit, with its financial heart closed for a second day and seawater cascading into the still-gaping construction pit at the World Trade Center. The storm caused the worst damage in the 108-year history of New York’s extensive subway system, according to Joseph Lhota, the chairman of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority. Mayor Michael Bloomberg said it could be four or five days before service is restored.
“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.
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 a blizzard in 1888. President Obama declared a major disaster in New York and Long Island, making federal funding available to residents of the area.
An unprecedented 13-foot surge of seawater — three feet above the previous record — gushed into lower Manhattan, 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. A large tanker ship ran aground on the city’s Staten Island.
In New Jersey, where the superstorm came ashore, hundreds of people were being evacuated in rising water early Tuesday. Authorities launched an effort to evacuate about 800 people in the town of Moonachie in northern New Jersey early Tuesday after a berm overflowed, authorities said. The Port of Boston announced it was open without restrictions Tuesday morning, and public transit systems in Boston planned to reopen Tuesday as well.
Washington, DC, metro service planned to reopen on a limited basis Tuesday afternoon. 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 winds — even bringing snow in West Virginia and other mountainous areas inland.
Remnants of the now-former Category 1 hurricane were forecast to head across Pennsylvania before taking another sharp turn into western New York state 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.
The massive storm reached well into the Midwest. Chicago officials warned residents to stay away from the Lake Michigan shore as the city prepared for winds of up to 60 mph and waves exceeding 24 feet well into Wednesday.
Just before it made landfall at 8pm near Atlantic City, New Jersey, forecasters stripped Sandy of hurricane status, but the distinction was purely technical, based on its shape and internal temperature. It still packed hurricane-force winds.
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 33 deaths in the US on the converging storms —in New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Connecticut, Maryland, North Carolina and West Virginia. At least one death was blamed on the storm in Canada.
Sandy killed 69 people in the Caribbean before making its way up the Atlantic Coast.
Even before it made landfall in New Jersey, 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.
The New York metropolitan area got the worst of it.
An explosion at a ConEdison power substation knocked out power to about 310,000 customers in Manhattan.
“It sounded like the Fourth of July,” Stephen Weisbrot said from his apartment in lower Manhattan.
A huge fire destroyed 80 to 100 homes in a flooded neighborhood by the Atlantic Ocean in the New York City borough of Queens. Firefighters told WABC-TV that they had to use a boat to make rescues. Two people suffered minor injuries, a fire department spokesman said.
Firefighters told WABC-TV that the water was chest high on the street. They said in one apartment home, about 25 people were trapped in an upstairs unit.
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 the neonatal intensive care unit who were on battery-powered respirators — had to be carried down staircases and to dozens of ambulances waiting to take them to other hospitals.
Tunnels and bridges to Manhattan were shut down, and some flooded.
“We have no idea how long it’s going to take” to restore the transit system, MTA spokeswoman Marjorie Anders said Tuesday.
A construction crane atop a $1.5 billion luxury high-rise overlooking Central Park 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.”
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 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.
President Obama scrapped his campaign events for Monday and Tuesday to stay at the White House to oversee the government’s response to the superstorm. Romney was going ahead with a planned event in Ohio on Tuesday, but his campaign said its focus would be on storm relief.