TWO Belfast women were last night among millions of people across the north-eastern United States who were bracing for Hurricane Sandy as the superstorm picked up speed over the Atlantic.
Roisin McAlea from Belfast had travelled to stay with her sister Kate Brown, who lives at Long Island in New York state, just three miles from the beach.
“The winds are building up rapidly but we do feel safe,” Roisin told the News Letter from her sister’s home last night.
Her sister Kate said winds had already reached up to 45mph and that her fence had just blown down.
“We are only three miles from the beach where the waves are already up to 30ft high,” she said.
“We are expecting the winds to reach gusts of 80 to 90mph and our lights are already flickering. However, we have plenty of food and water in and a generator if the power goes out.
“This is definitely worse than Hurricane Irene last year, although I do feel safe in my home tonight.”
Her home is about 30ft above sea level and the highest surge in her area is expected to reach 11ft above sea level, so they believed they were high enough to escape flooding.
Kate is an elected politician at county level.
“We have had numerous conference calls this week as preparation, making sure our emergency services are all ready, but they are all very competent. However, I think it is quite likely I will have to go to the office on Tuesday to take calls.”
Last night Hurricane Sandy flooded shore towns and threatened to cripple Wall Street and New York’s subway system with a huge surge of corrosive sea water.
By midday, the storm was picking up speed and was expected to blow ashore in New Jersey or Delaware early in the evening, hours sooner than previously expected.
Hurricane Sandy has already claimed the lives of 69 people – 52 in Haiti.
Forecasters warned it would combine with two other weather systems – a wintry storm from the west and cold air rushing in from the Arctic – to create an epic superstorm.
From Washington to Boston, subways, buses, trains and schools were shut down and more than 7,000 flights grounded across the region of 50 million people.
Hundreds of thousands of people were under orders to move to higher ground to await the storm’s fury.
President Barack Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney suspended their campaigning, with just over a week to go before Election Day.
At the White House, Mr Obama made a direct appeal to those in harm’s way: “Please listen to what your state and local officials are saying.
“When they tell you to evacuate, you need to evacuate. Don’t delay, don’t pause, don’t question the instructions that are being given because this is a powerful storm.”
The storm washed away a section of the Atlantic City Boardwalk in New Jersey. Water was splashing over the seawalls at the southern tip of Manhattan.
A construction crane atop a luxury high-rise in mid-town Manhattan collapsed in high winds and dangled precariously. Residents in surrounding buildings were ordered to move to lower floors and the streets below were cleared, but there were no immediate reports of injuries.
The major American stock exchanges closed for the day, the first unplanned shutdown since the September 11 attacks in 2001. Wall Street expected to remain closed today. The United Nations cancelled all meetings at its New York headquarters.
Authorities warned that New York City and Long Island could get the worst of the storm surge: an 11ft onslaught of sea water that could swamp lower Manhattan, flood the subways and damage the underground network of electrical and communications lines that are vital to the nation’s financial capital.
About 16,000 New Yorkers lost power, mostly in the boroughs of Queens and Staten Island.
“Leave immediately. Conditions are deteriorating very rapidly, and the window for you getting out safely is closing,” New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg told those in low-lying areas.