Superstorm Sandy devastates US, 16 dead

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NEW YORK: Superstorm Sandy battered the US East Coast today with fierce winds and heavy rains, killing at least 16 people, plunging millions into darkness and leaving the New York Stock Exchange shut for two straight days for the first time since 1888, prompting President Barack Obama to declare it a "major disaster".

Sandy, one of the biggest storms ever to hit the US, slammed the coastline of New Jersey where a large number of Indian families reside, with 80 mph winds, pushing seawater up by an unprecedented 13-feet in New York City, bringing the Presidential campaign to a halt a week before the November 6 polls.

Obama, who took a day off from the campaigning yesterday to oversee from the White House the response to the megastorm, declared that megastorm Sandy had sparked a "major disaster" in the states of New York and New Jersey. He ordered release of federal aid for those who lost homes or businesses.

Republican challenger Mitt Romney also cancelled some campaign appearances.

Stock trading was closed in the US for a second day today

the first time the New York Stock Exchange remained closed for two consecutive days due to weather since 1888, when a blizzard struck the city.

Storm damage was projected at USD 10 billion to USD 20 billion, meaning it could prove to be one of the costliest natural disasters in US history.

According to CBS News, 16 deaths were reported in New Jersey, New York, Maryland, North Carolina, West Virginia, Pennsylvania and Connecticut. Some of the victims were killed by falling trees. At least one death was blamed on the storm in Canada.

Still, the power was out for hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers and an estimated 6.2 million people altogether across the East.

Emergency has been declared in Connecticut, Delaware, the District of Columbia, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania and Rhode Island. The storm affected more than 50 million people along the entire East Coast from North Carolina to New Hampshire.

The water flooded seven underground subway lines, putting them out of action temporarily.

"The New York City subway system is 108 years old, but it has never faced a disaster as devastating as what we experienced last night," said Joseph Lhota, chairman of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA).

"Hurricane Sandy wreaked havoc on our entire transportation system, in every borough and county of the region. It has brought down trees, ripped out power and inundated tunnels, rail yards and bus depots," he said.

Police said floodwaters have broken a levee in northern New Jersey, threatening three nearby towns and prompting rescue teams to take to boats.

Ralph Verdi, the police chief of Little Ferry, New Jersey, told CNN the waters had risen by four to six feet in some areas,

Rescuers pulled residents from second-storey windows to safety.

Floods inundated a number of areas in New York and New Jersey and an explosion at a sub-station on the east side of Manhattan's Midtown plunged 500,000 people into darkness.

The facade of a four-story building in Manhattan's Chelsea neighbourhood crumbled and collapsed, leaving the lights, couches, cabinets and desks inside visible from the street. No one was hurt.

Eyewitnesses said a huge ball of blue light exploded over Manhattan last night, believed to be a powerful blast at Consolidated Edison station.

The US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) declared an alert at the Oyster Creek nuclear power plant in New Jersey, which is currently in a regularly scheduled outage, as the water level reached the minimum high level criteria.

"Water level is rising in the intake structure due to a combination of a rising tide, wind direction and storm surge.

It is anticipated water levels will begin to abate within the next several hours," the NRC said.

According to NRC, no plants had to shut down as a result of the storm although several plants were already out of service for regularly scheduled refuelling and maintenance outages. All plants remain in a safe condition, with emergency equipment available if needed and NRC inspectors on-site.

The storm also flooded ground-zero, the site of the 9/11 terror attacks here.

Authorities evacuated more than 200 patients and staff of a New York city hospital after after its backup generator failed when the power was knocked out by the superstorm.

Sandy is no longer a hurricane because it is drawing energy from temperature differences and not the ocean, making the transition to a superstorm that may push a wall of water ashore in the Northeast and lash the East with wind and rain.

John F Kennedy airport in New York City and other airports in the region have been shut down with more than 13,000 flights being cancelled in the storm affected areas.

New York and New Jersey registered a record level of rainfall and shut down major transportation arteries.

Sandy killed 69 people in the Caribbean before making its way up the Atlantic.

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