New storm lines up Sandy-battered US

TOM HAYS AND COLLEEN LONG
Last updated 07:38 08/11/2012
Burnt houses surrounded by houses that survived is seen in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy in the Breezy Point neighbourhood of Queens, New York.
Reuters

NEW YORK, NEW YORK: Burnt houses surrounded by houses that survived is seen in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy in the Breezy Point neighbourhood of Queens, New York.

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Residents of New York and New Jersey who were flooded out by Superstorm Sandy are waiting with dread after hearing warnings to evacuate for the second time in two weeks as another, weaker storm spun toward them and threatened to inundate their homes again or simply leave them shivering in the dark for even longer.

"Everyone has major anxiety after what we just experienced a week ago," said Anthony Ferrante, whose house is less than 330 metres from the Staten Island shoreline. "I think everybody's freaked out about what happened."

Ferrante was back at his house today (NZ time), waiting for an insurance adjustor. "But if it starts, I'm getting out of here," he said of the nor'easter.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg ordered police to use their patrol car loudspeakers to warn vulnerable residents about evacuating, one of a number of measures that the beleaguered city was taking even as weather experts said this nor'easter could be weaker than expected.

"Even though it's not anywhere near as strong as Sandy — nor strong enough, in normal times, for us to evacuate anybody — out of precaution and because of the changing physical circumstances, we are going to go to some small areas and ask those people to go to higher ground," Bloomberg said overnight (NZ time).

The US Federal Emergency Management Agency put a number to the storm's homeless in New York and New Jersey, saying 95,000 people were eligible for emergency housing assistance. In New York, New Jersey and Connecticut, more than 277,000 people have registered for general assistance, the agency said.

In New Jersey, winds are kicking up and some battered shore communities were ordering mandatory evacuations for later today (NZ time).

Atlantic County, in the southern part of New Jersey, activated its emergency operations centre and told residents to restock their emergency supplies.

Officials were waiting for the first high tide around 1pm (7am today, NZ time) to see if flooding would occur and also hoping the winds would not lead to more power outages.

"We have almost everyone who possibly can be reconnected back on. The idea we could now be facing power outages again does not come at a good time," county spokeswoman Linda Gilmore said.

Major airlines were scrapping flights in and out of the New York area ahead of the storm.

United, the world's largest airline, suspended most New York City service starting at noon American Airlines was shutting down in New York at 3pm Wednesday (9am today, NZ time), and was also stopping flights to and from Philadelphia at noon.

Most other airlines asked passengers to reschedule their Northeast flights for a later date.

While New York City officials strongly encouraged storm-ravaged communities to seek higher ground, some refused, choosing to stick close to the belongings they have left.

And weather experts had some relatively good news. As the storm moves up the Atlantic coast from Florida, it now is expected to veer farther offshore than earlier projections had indicated.

Storm surges along the coasts of New Jersey and New York are expected to reach perhaps one metre, only half to a third of what Hurricane Sandy caused last week. While that should produce only minor flooding, it will still likely cause some erosion problems along the Jersey coast and the shores of Long Island, where Sandy destroyed some protective dunes.

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And it still carried the threat of wind gusts that could bring down tree limbs weakened by Sandy. High winds, which could reach 110 km/h, could extend inland throughout the day, potentially stalling power restoration efforts or causing further outages.

"Our house is already in shambles. What worse can happen?" said a resigned and overwhelmed Lilly Wu.

Last week, her family huddled upstairs as the flood rose three metres inside their four-story Staten Island home; her seven-year-old daughter was "shaking from head to toe." They were rescued the next day.

Now they're bunking in the kids' room and basement at their friends' home in Brooklyn.

Her six-year-old son has told her: "'I want my bed, Mummy; I want my blanket.'"

The city was closing all parks, playgrounds and beaches, as well as ordering all construction sites to be secured. Tuesday evening, the mayor ordered three nursing homes and an adult care facility evacuated from Queens' vulnerable Rockaway Peninsula because of fears the weather might knock out electricity already being provided by generators. About 620 residents were being moved.

Since the superstorm made landfall more than a week ago, killing many of its more than 100 victims in New York City and New Jersey and leaving millions without power, police said overall crime has actually gone down. There are few reports storm-damaged homes being looted.

But Alex Ocasio wasn't convinced. The nursing home worker planned to ride out the latest storm in his first-floor Rockaway apartment — even after seeing cars float by his front door during Sandy.

As the water receded, men dressed in dark clothes broke down the door and were surprised to find him and other residents inside, he said.

"They tried to say they were rescue workers, then took off," he said.

He put up a handmade sign — "Have gun. Will shoot U" — outside his apartment and started using a bed frame to barricade the door. He has gas, so he keeps the oven on and boils water to stay warm at night.

"It gets a little humid, but it's not bad," he said. "I'm staying. Nothing can be worse than what happened last week."

Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly said it wasn't wise to stay put. "I think your life is more important than property," he said.

- AP

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