President Barrack Obama
By Gboyega Akinsanmi and Zacheaus Somorin, with agency reports
The United States President, Barrack Obama, Tuesday declared a state of emergency as “Superstorm Sandy” continued to wreak havoc on the eastern coast of the country.
The destruction caused by what was initially termed a hurricane but later categorised as “Superstorm” mounted Tuesday morning as electrical fires and record power outages added to the misery of devastating floods in the North-east.
But it is not just residents in the eastern United States that will feel the impact of Superstorm Sandy, as the Lagos State Government Tuesday warned Lagosians that the aftermath of the storm might be felt in coastal areas of the state within the next seven to 14 days.
As a result, the state government has warned all residents living close to the coastline on the eastern part of Lagos to steer clear of the area due to the likelihood of an ocean surge and violent winds arising from the cyclone.
In the US, more than 7.5 million customers shivered without electricity in 15 states and the District of Columbia in Sandy's chilly wake.
Sandy also claimed at least 28 lives across the United States, bringing the total number of deaths to at least 94 after the storm wreaked havoc on the Caribbean.
The storm sent trees crashing down and left neighbourhood streets looking like rivers. Homes washed off their foundations and onto a New Jersey state highway.
Also, floodwaters rushed into New York's subway tunnels, while hundreds of people were stranded in one New Jersey town alone yesterday morning.
Connecticut's governor offered ominous advice in a Twitter post: “If u find urself surrounded by water, call 4 help if u can, then get 2 highest level of home. Hang a white sheet out a street-side window.”
Authorities scrambled in boats to rescue trapped residents in several towns after a levee broke in Moonachie, New Jersey. “Within 30 minutes, those towns were under four or five feet of water,” said Jeanne Baratta, chief of staff for the Bergen County executive.
Hundreds of people had been rescued Tuesday morning, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie said. “We'll have to rescue hundreds more,” he added.
Meanwhile, the stench of smoke blew across flooded streets as fierce winds and rising waters shorted out power lines and sparked fires in places such as Lindenhurst, New York.
At least 80 homes burned to the ground in the Breezy Point neighbourhood of Queens, fire officials said. The cause of the blaze was not immediately made known. More than 200 fire fighters battled the leaping flames.
Elsewhere in New York City, emergency backup power failed and 10 feet of water flooded the basement of NYU Langone Medical Centre, prompting the evacuation of 260 patients. Nurses carried sick newborn babies down nine flights of stairs, manually pumping air into the lungs of those on respirators.
Obama issued federal emergency decrees for New York and New Jersey, declaring that “major disasters” existed in both states. One disaster-forecasting company predicted economic losses could ultimately reach $20 billion, only half insured.
“Its total devastation down there, there are boats in the street five blocks from the ocean,” said evacuee Peter Sandomeno, one of the owners of the Broadway Court Motel in Point Pleasant Beach, New Jersey. “That's the worst storm I've ever seen, and I've been there for 11 years.”
Sandy, which was especially imposing because of its wide-ranging winds, brought a record storm surge of almost 14 feet (4.2 metres) to downtown Manhattan, well above the previous record of 10 feet (3 metres) during Hurricane Donna in 1960, the National Weather Service said.
Water poured into the subway system and tunnels that course under the city, raising concerns that the world's financial capital could be hobbled for days.
It was the worst disaster to strike the storied New York subway system in its 108-year history, and the Metropolitan Transportation Authority said it could take up to four days to get the water out of the flooded train tunnels.
With Obama and Republican presidential rival, Mitt Romney, keeping campaigning on hold for a second day instead of launching their final push for votes ahead of the November 6 election, the storm's onslaught added a new level of uncertainty to an already tense, tight race for the White House.
Meanwhile, the Lagos State Government has warned that the after effects of Superstorm Sandy might be felt on coastal areas in Lagos within the next seven and 14 days.
Consequently, the government warned all the residents living close to the coastline on the eastern part of the state to avoid the area to guard against the likelihood of an ocean surge and violent winds.
Commissioner for Waterfront Infrastructure Development, Mr. Adesegun Oniru, disclosed this at a news conference at the state secretariat, Alausa Tuesday, noting that judging from past experience, Lagos might experience a violent storm and ocean surge.
Oniru, who addressed the conference along with his Information and Strategy counterpart, Mr. Lateef Ibirogba, and Special Adviser on the Environment, Dr. Taofeek Folami, advised all the residents of the state living within the range of 100 metres to Atlantic Ocean to vacate the area pending when the weather is clear.
He however said there was no cause for alarm, but advised all residents in coastal areas to remain on guard in order to avoid unnecessary loss of lives and property, which might occur from the ripple effects of a cyclone.
He attributed the likely ripple effects of Superstorm Sandy to the location of Lagos, which he said was parallel to South America; hence the storm experienced in the Caribbean and the US might have an impact on the coastline of the state.
The commissioner explained: “We just want to let Lagos residents know what is going on and what to expect. It is not to create panic. But they should be careful around the ocean and lagoon.
“In the last five to six days, around the Caribbean, from Jamaica, Haiti, Cuba and now Hurricane Sandy has hit the east coast of America.
“Normally, if it hits that part of the world, we always have a ripple effect in Lagos and around the West Coast of Africa. Our main concern is Lagos.
“It is a warning, but not meant to create panic. Lagos lies parallel to the South American part of the world on the map, but Superstorm Sandy has hit New York City.
“That part of the world is north of us. But we need to note that within the next seven to 14 days, we may have a ripple effect. The time frame given comes from experience in the past.
“It is based on what we have witnessed here in Lagos particularly when any cyclone hits the South American part of the world, because of our proximity to them; the ripple effect can be felt within seven to 14 days here. It is a trend.”
He explained that the Lagos metropolis normally “experiences ocean surges three times a year. We are still expecting one strong surge before the end of the year."