Damage widespread, Northeast reflects on historic storm
WAMC's Ian Pickus files this special Hurricane Sandy report.
As the storm — called everything from Frankenstorm to Superstorm to a hundred-year occurrence in the days leading up to its arrival last night in southern New Jersey — now batters the Midwest, deviating from its once-predicted track, it has been reclassified a post-tropical cyclone.
The nomenclature will make little difference when you consider the damage it has caused, including several deaths along the East Coast. And to the millions of Americans who lost power, from Delaware to Michigan and throughout the WAMC listening area, the storm is quickly passing into all-too-real myth.
Considered together, the facts are simply staggering: the storm came ashore with winds of 80 miles per hour. The U.S. death toll includes at least 16 people in several states and is expected to rise. Up to 7.5 million customers nationally lost electricity. Large areas of New York City are under water and the streets are eerily dark. Hospitals have had to remove patients to find safer footing. The stock market is closed for a second day. Many schools are shuttered. Thousands of residents have been moved out in places like New Jersey, where a large section of the Atlantic City boardwalk is gone. President Obama has declared a major disaster in New York City and Long Island. And as far away as Chicago, residents are being told to avoid the shores of Lake Michigan. Rail travel is halted and the New York City airports remained closed this morning. National Guard troops were hard at work in several states. Even the indomitable presidential campaign became an afterthought.
And as NewsChannel 13 Meteorologist Paul Caiano puts it, it’s not even over yet.
Closer to home, high winds downed trees and knocked power out, and some of the WAMC listening area appears to have been spared just a year after taking the brunt of Irene and Lee. Not so everywhere. More than 100,000 NYSEG customers woke up without power this morning, including 30,000 in Westchester and Putnam Counties, 21,000 in Sullivan County, and 7,000 in Dutchess County. Poughkeepsie suffered records floods. Ulster County was set to lift travel restrictions at noon, according to county executive Mike Hein.
Meanwhile, the National Weather Service has issued a wind advisory for east central New York and Western New England until 6 tonight, and there could be gusts up to 55 miles per hour today in higher elevations today. That means more trees and wires could come down today, adding to the list of outages. There was also a flood warning issued for the Hudson River in Albany.
For some storm perspective, I reached out to Chris Thorncroft, chair of the University at Albany Department of Atmospheric and Environmental Sciences — a man who has gotten little sleep over the past few days.
In Connecticut, shelters were open across the state as shoreline municipalities found themselves joining with the Long Island Sound as one and more than 600,000 people were without power. At 8 this morning, Governor Dannel Malloy lifted the ban on state highways, but warned drivers to use caution and not to drive through standing water or around downed wires. And officials across state lines warn drinking water quality might be compromised by flooded sewage treatment centers.
Companies say it could be days before power returns for many customers, and even then, damage assessments will only be starting. Connecticut Light and Power spokesman Alan Lehrer told WAMC news that the company is ready to get to work.
Vermont Governor Peter Shumlin is set to update his state at 11 this morning during an address as the Vermont Emergency Operations Center in Waterbury. It seems the Green Mountain State is breathing a sigh of relief today. Despite some 35,000 power outages, the state apparently was spared a repeat of the destruction it suffered last year at the hands of Tropical Storm Irene.
State workers in Massachusetts were expected back at work by 10 this morning, with state courts reopening at noon. Many schools are still closed today, however, and the state Emergency Management Agency is sending out 31 "rapid assessment" teams Tuesday to determine where the worst damage was and where to concentrate assistance.
The storm also caused havoc in Maine, where there were some 86,000 outages this morning and high winds and rain forecast for today. In New Hampshire, state utilities were grappling with what were 200,000 outages at the height of the storm. Governor John Lynch has requested an emergency disaster declaration for the entire state.
With the storm continuing on its path today, surely endangering the towns it passes through state by state, observers are already tallying the loss of life and damage across the eastern United States. Others are merely thanking good fortune after the storm let them be. No matter what happens today and tomorrow, getting back to normal is a daunting process that will take some time.
Reporting for the Roundtable, I’m Ian Pickus, WAMC News.
WAMC’s Jake Sorgen and Dave Lucas contributed to this story. With AP.