‘Frankenstorm’, tsunami cause havoc in North America
HONOLULU – Hurricane Sandy headed north from the Caribbean – where it left nearly 60 dead – to threaten the eastern US with sheets of rain, high winds and heavy snow as officials warned millions in coastal areas to get out of the way of the behemoth storm.
While the US east coast is used to extreme weather, Sandy is concerning meteorologists who fear it could mutate into a ‘Frankenstorm’ as it merges with a winter storm in the run-up to Halloween.
Sandy was expected to affect up to 60 million people when it meets two other powerful winter storms. Experts said it didn’t matter how strong the storm was when it hit land: The rare hybrid that follows will cause havoc over 1 300 kilometres from the East Coast to the Great Lakes.
“This is not a coastal threat alone,” said Craig Fugate, director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency. “This is a very large area.”
Governors from North Carolina, where heavy rain was expected Sunday, to Connecticut declared states of emergency. Delaware ordered mandatory evacuations for coastal communities on Saturday. New Jersey Governor Chris Christie declared a state of emergency Saturday as hundreds of coastal residents started moving inland and the state was set to close its casinos. New York’s governor was considering shutting down the subways to avoid flooding and half a dozen states warned residents to prepare for several days of lost power.
The National Hurricane Centre in Miami said Sandy will continue moving parallel to the Southeast coast most of the day and approach the coast of the mid-Atlantic states by Monday night.
The storm forced the presidential campaign to juggle schedules. Republican nominee Mitt Romney, scrapped plans to campaign on Sunday in the swing state of Virginia and switched his schedule for the day to Ohio. First lady Michelle Obama canceled an appearance in New Hampshire for Tuesday, and President Barack Obama moved a planned Monday departure for Florida to Sunday night to beat the storm.
TSUNAMI HIT HAWAII
The first waves of a tsunami hitting Hawaii on Saturday night were smaller than expected, roughly three hours after evacuations were ordered for coastal areas threatened after a powerful earthquake struck off Canada.
Gerard Fryer, a geologist tracking the tsunami for the Pacific Tsunami Warning Centre, said the largest wave in the first 45 minutes of the tsunami was measured in Maui at more than 1,5 metre, about half-a-metre higher than normal sea levels.
State and local officials warned residents and tourists not to go back to inundation zones until an all-clear is given, though no major damage was reported.
At first, officials said Hawaii wasn’t in any danger of a tsunami after the 7,7-magnitude earthquake rattled the western coast of North America Saturday night, sparking tsunami warnings for southern Alaska and western Canada.
Honolulu Mayor Peter Carlisle announced that all police and emergency personnel were being pulled out from potential flood zones shortly before the first wave, leaving anyone defying evacuation orders to fend for themselves. He urged motorists who remained caught in harm’s way due to gridlocked roads to abandon their vehicles and proceed on foot.
“If you are stuck in traffic, you might consider getting out of your car and consider walking to higher ground. You will have to assess your own situation, depending on where you are right now. Right now it is critical,” he said
Vindell Hsu, a geophysicist at the Tsunami Warning Centre said an estimated 100 000 to 150 000 people who live in Hawaii’s coastal zones had been urged to move to higher ground until after 22h30.
The warnings followed a powerful earthquake with a magnitude of 7,7 that hit Canada’s Pacific coastal province of British Columbia late on Saturday.
The US Geological Survey said the quake was centred 198 km south-southwest of Prince Rupert at a depth of 10 km.
The Earthquakes Canada agency said the quake in the Haida Gwaii region was followed by numerous aftershocks as large as 4,6 and that a small tsunami has been recorded by a deep-ocean pressure sensor.
“We thought that the earthquake was on land and when we learned that it was deeper undersea and we gathered more information, we had no choice but to issue a warning,” Fryer said
As residents scrambled to reach higher ground on Oahu, at least four major road accidents were reported by the state Emergency Medical Services. More accidents were also reported on the outer islands.