‘Super’ Sandy churns

Deserted New York street.

NEW YORK — Hurricane Sandy, the monster storm bearing down on the East Coast, strengthened today after hundreds of thousands moved to higher ground, public transport shut down and the stock market suffered its first weather-related closure in 27 years.

About 50 million people from the Mid-Atlantic to Canada were in the path of the nearly 1,600-kilometre-wide storm, which forecasters said could be the largest to hit the mainland in US history. It was expected to topple trees, damage buildings, cause power outages and trigger heavy flooding.

The US National Hurricane Centre said this morning the Category 1 storm had strengthened as it turned toward the coast and was moving at 15 mph. It was expected to bring a “life-threatening storm surge”, coastal hurricane winds and heavy snow in the Appalachian Mountains, the NHC said.

Nine US states have declared states of emergency and President Barack Obama has warned the nation to brace itself.

“This is a serious and big storm,” Obama said after a briefing at the federal government’s storm response centre in Washington. “We don’t yet know where it’s going to hit, where we’re going to see the biggest impacts.

Sandy killed 66 people in the Caribbean before pounding US coastal areas with rain and triggering snow falls at higher elevations.

Forecasting services indicated early today the storm would strike the New Jersey shore near Atlantic City tonight. While Sandy does not yet pack the punch of Hurricane Katrina, which devastated New Orleans in 2005, it could become more potent as it approaches the US coast.

New York and other cities and towns closed their transit systems and schools and ordered mass evacuations from low-lying areas ahead of a storm surge that could reach as high as 11 feet.

All US stock markets also closed today and will possibly remain closed tomorrow, the operator of the New York Stock Exchange said late yesterday, reversing an earlier plan that would have kept electronic trading going. (Reuters)

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