Frankenstein's Monstorm: Hurricane Sandy liveblog

Nicky Woolf charts the progression of what might be the biggest storm to hit the East Coast in a century.


Mayor Bloomberg of New York City:




Reuters is reporting: "Nineteen workers were trapped inside a Consolidated Edison power station on the east side of Manhattan Monday night by rising floodwaters that accompanied the surge from powerful storm Sandy, according to a Reuters witness. A rescue worker, who declined to be named, said the station had suffered an explosion inside."

This is being denied by Consolidated Edison:




The Oyster Creek nuclear plant in New Jersey is on an alert right now due to "water exceeding certain high water criteria in the plant's water intake structure", according to a release by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission at 9PM, though the release also said that "all plants remain in a safe condition" and that the NRC anticipates water levels abating.



Now that the immediate danger of rising water is gone, there is chaos. NYU hospital is currently being evacuated, by what Fox is calling "an armada of ambulances".

Meanwhile, Buzzfeed's Ben Smith is apparently listening to the police radio frequencies, and is reporting:




As it begins to look like the surge is thinking about receding - or at least that the worst is over - the news cycle is beginning to look at the second-day story. The prison of Rikers Island has apparently been neglected, and there is the beginnings of a meme developing around Mayor Bloomberg's sign-language interpreter...

On a more serious note, NYU Hospital's backup generators have failed, causing a wholesale evacuation of patients; which will almost certainly eventually merit direct scrutiny.



New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg tells a brief press conference that he expects the surge to recede by midnight.



BuzzFeed's Andrew Kaczynski (@BuzzFeedAndrew) just tweeted an amazing picture of Ground Zero flooding.




Rosie Gray, who works for Buzzfeed and lives in Lower Manhattan, is tweeting that water levels might be beginning to recede.





Spectacular footage of that transformer box explosion on the Lower East Side:




High tide has now been and gone - but water in lower Manhattan continues to rise unabated.

This was one of the explosions that caused the lights in the sky earlier, caught on instagram: 



A quite genuinely astonishing picture of water rushing into Hoboken PATH station in New Jersey.






The worst predictions for the storm surge were for 11ft. Battery Park is experiencing water levels of 13.65ft; 3 feet higher than the previous record.

And the water is still rising.



More pictures from flooded Manhattan. First Avenue (via @ChaseCainTV):


...the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel (via the Transport Authority):

It has just been announced that all tunnels and bridges are now closed.







This picture, apparently taken by ABC News employee @TheGunzShow, shows the floodwater continue to advance - this is at 20th street and avenue C. The Lower East Side appears to be drowning.



Vivid and violent green and blue flashes in the sky over lower Manhattan are apparently happening, caused - as far as anyone seems to be able to tell - by exploding electrical transformers on the Lower East Side. It's all getting pretty apocalyptic down there, Hurricane or no Hurricane.



...and a pretty serious fire in New Jersey:



...and many are reporting seeing a bizarre, prolonged green flash in the sky over Manhattan, too.



Lower Manhattan is having some pretty serious flooding issues right now.






The center of former-Hurricane Sandy has made landfall over New Jersey.



NBC News is reporting the first Sandy-related death, that of a 30-year-old man "trapped under a tree" in his home on 166th Street, new York.



More seriously, the storm-surge appears to have been greater than expected. Battery in New York is reporting more than 12 and a half feet of floodwater, and the full force of the surge isn't due for up to another half an hour. Flood-damage, not wind-damage, was always the real worry with this storm.

(Photo via @BillKarins)



Despite the down-grade, we're hearing reports of a terrifying new danger facing Americans on the Eastern Seaboard... (could be a fake)




TweetDeck, BuzzFeed and the Huffington Post are all down - but meanwhile, Sandy has changed status - it is now a Post-Tropical Cyclone rather than a Hurricane. This was always expected to be its transition as it hits the coast, however, and its wind speeds are still a sustained 85MPH.

The National Hurricane Center outlines the difference thus: "Tropical cyclones tend to have more compact wind fields, tend to be more symmetric, and have a well-defined inner core of strong winds. Wintertime lows have strong temperature contrasts or fronts attached to them, have a broader wind field, and more complex distributions of rain or snow."

As this weather system meets the cold-weather front over the Appalachians, this storm will likely become more unpredictable, but less focussed and may lose its intensite.



With just 45 minutes to go until the projected time at which the full force of the storm - and it's accompanying surge - hits New York, here is a solid history lesson, about the Great New England Hurricane of 1938:

"Along the south shore of Long Island, the sky began to darken and the wind picked up. Fishermen and boaters were at sea, and summer residents enjoying the end of the season were in their beachfront homes. Around 2:30 p.m., the full force of the hurricane made landfall, unfortunately around high tide. Surges of ocean water and waves 40 feet tall swallowed up coastal homes. At Westhampton, which lay directly in the path of the storm, 150 beach homes were destroyed, about a third of which were pulled into the swelling ocean. Winds exceeded 100 mph. Inland, people were drowned in flooding, killed by uprooted trees and falling debris, and electrocuted by downed electrical lines.

"All told, 700 people were killed by the hurricane, 600 of them in Long Island and southern New England. Some 700 people were injured. Nearly 9,000 homes and buildings were destroyed, and 15,000 damaged. Nearly 3,000 ships were sunk or wrecked. Power lines were downed across the region, causing widespread blackouts. Innumerable trees were felled, and 12 new inlets were created on Long Island. Railroads were destroyed and farms were obliterated. Total damages were $306 million, which equals $18 billion in today's dollars."

You can read the whole thing here.



A neat tidbit:




I may be reading this slightly off, but it's just possible that someone running Chris Christie's twitter feed - or perhaps the governor himself - has somewhat of a dry sense of humour.




Brief panic in LiveBlog HQ as the internet goes down - and everyone holds their breath for the electricity to follow. But we seem to have got lucky this time - connection is back, however temporarily.

None of that affects this lunatic, though, who spent the afternoon careening around the flooded streets of Manasquan, New Jersey, on a jetski. If he's still alive by tomorrow, internet celebrity surely awaits him.




As the storm makes landfall near Atlantic City, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie prepares for his moment to shine - and perhaps make steps towards winning his party's nomination in 2016 if Mitt Romney loses this election. So far his response to the storm - closing roads and managing evacuations - has been widely praised as confident and competent - earlier today he called people who ignore Hurricane warnings and hold out against the storm "stupid and selfish". But it will be in how he deals with the aftermath that his political star will wax or wane.



This satellite map from the National Hurricane Center shows the formation of the storm as it comes within an hour of landfall on the coast of New Jersey.



President Obama watches news about Sandy come in from the White House.



Michael Mann, the director of Pennsylvania State University's Earth System Science Center and a Fellow of both the American Geophysical Union and the American Meteorological Society, is keen to highlight the bigger picture.

"One thing that we're fairly confident about is the likelihood for increasingly more powerful hurricanes as the oceans continue to warm," he said in a statement. "But one thing that doesn't get quite as much attention and yet is equally if not important is the potential for inland flooding with these storms. Few people are aware that much of the damage and expense from hurricanes and tropical storms isn't from the winds or coastal surge, but the inland flooding."

"As ocean temperatures warm, there is more water vapor in the atmosphere above them. ... Sandy will cross near-record ocean surface temperatures off the mid-Atlantic coast as she veers inland. That means she's going to contain more water vapor within her, and will have the potential to produce more flooding rain, than if temperatures hadn't been so warm."

"We can't blame the existence of a single hurricane on global warming just like we can't blame a single roll of a six on a die that has been weighted to yield too many "sixes".  But we can see that climate change is playing a role in setting the context for these storms, in particular the record levels of North Atlantic ocean warmth that is available to feed these storms with energy and moisture."



Lots of rumours on Twitter about another crane - this one on the World Trade Center site.



...but this one is entirely untrue; which goes to show how quickly a scary rumour can gain legs on Twitter. The Port Authority of New York City are saying there's no problem on One World Trade Center cranes at the moment:


And here's a terrifying live video feed of that dangling crane. That building on the right of the picture is the Hearst tower, which houses Cosmopolitan, Marie Claire, Harpers' Bazaar and other magazines. The top of the crane is 75 stories up.



This live wind map, using data from the National Digital Forecast database, shows just how much of America is involved in this weather system. It's absolutely hypnotising.



More incredible pictures; this time from the New York City Aviation twitter feed.




Dangerous times in upper Manhattan. @JonathanWald is tweeting pictures of what seems to be a broken crane dangling precariously from a half-built skyscraper on 57th Street. Am trying to get confirmation.



This dramatic picture has been circulating Twitter of the guards at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Arlington Cemetary, near Washington DC: fact it was, as many have already pointed out, not actually taken today but last September; but it is nonetheless amazing and true that the 3rd Infantry regiment, or the "Old Guard", will be standing outside at the tomb throughout the coming storm.

"The Sentinels at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier maintain their vigil even as Hurricane Sandy bears down on the Eastern Seaboard. The Old Guard has guarded the tomb every minute of every day since April 6, 1948. Today will be no exception," the regiment announced through its Facebook page.




It's possible that the flaw in the New York Times' plan to view the storm from a camera atop their Manhattan skyscraper, which updates every minute, may already be becoming clear: all you can see, already, is grey. It might be a more dramatic view when things get hairer, though.



Electricity company ConEd, which provides power to the majority of New York City, is considering shutting off the power to Lower Manhattan to protect its cabling and equipment, which is often housed in basements, from rising floodwater, which would leave the tip of the island as well as parts of the East Village in the dark.

It also reports that downed power lines have already shut off power to parts of Brooklyn and Queens - including Crown Heights; which is where I am blogging from, so if this blog suddenly goes quiet, it means that we've lost power here...

ConEd's power outages map can be accessed here



Mayor Bloomberg gave a press conference about an hour ago.

“This is a massive storm; hurricane-force winds extend some 175 miles in every direction of the center. The storm may strengthen as it meets the cold front approaching from the northwest, and that’s when it changes from a tropical storm to a nor’easter, which has very big implications for those areas to the west of us and to the north of us," he said.

“As we’ve emphasized all along, the greatest danger posed by Sandy is the coastal storm surge it will produce."

That storm surge has been estimated to be between 9 and 11 feet - nothing like Hurricane Katrina's more focussed surge of more than 27 feet, but still sizable - and spread across a much wider area, all along the eastern seaboard. The full moon is also contributing to the surge, which will reach its high tide peak this evening, around the same time as Sandy is due to make landfall. That, and the incoming cold front, is what is leading everyone to refer to this as the perfect storm system.



This is a satellite photo of the Earth taken by NASA at just after nine this morning. Hurricane Sandy is clearly visible at the top.


Brooklyn is getting pretty windy, but reports are that Manhattan is still continuing business as usual for now - despite surge levels already having reached the level of Hurricane Irene.



Hello and welcome to the New Statesman's live-blog of Hurricane Sandy. The storm, still around 250 miles off the coast, is picking up speed - winds were consistently hitting 90MPH two and a half hours ago, and the 500-mile-wide storm is approaching the east coast at a stately 18MPH. It is expected to make landfall at around eight o'clock this evening eastern time, that's the crack of midnight UK time. I'm in Crown Heights, safely at higher ground in Brooklyn, New York. Outside, gusts of wind have been picking up all morning.

In large, lower-lying areas of the New York metropolitan area, including parts of Manhattan Island, an estimated 375,000 people have been ordered to evacuate to higher ground. Scientists are expecting more than 11 feet of surge being driven in from the sea by the storm. Despite the storm still being around 250 miles from us here, the trendy Brooklyn district of Red Hook is already under water:

Red Hook

Sandy brushes past the tip of Florida. Photograph: NOAA

Nicky Woolf is reporting for the New Statesman from the US. He tweets @NickyWoolf.

Photo: Getty Images
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I'm far from convinced by Cameron's plans for Syria

The Prime Minister has a plan for when the bombs drop. But what about after?

In the House of Commons today, the Prime Minister set out a powerful case for Britain to join air strikes against Isil in Syria.  Isil, he argued, poses a direct threat to Britain and its people, and Britain should not be in the business of “outsourcing our security to our allies”. And while he conceded that further airstrikes alone would not be sufficient to beat Isil, he made the case for an “Isil first” strategy – attacking Isil now, while continuing to do what we can diplomatically to help secure a lasting settlement for Syria in which Assad (eventually) plays no part.

I agreed with much of David Cameron’s analysis. And no-one should doubt either the murderous barbarism of Isil in the region, or the barbarism they foment and inspire in others across the world.  But at the end of his lengthy Q&A session with MPs, I remained unconvinced that UK involvement in airstrikes in Syria was the right option. Because the case for action has to be a case for action that has a chance of succeeding.  And David Cameron’s case contained neither a plan for winning the war, nor a plan for winning the peace.

The Prime Minister, along with military experts and analysts across the world, concedes that air strikes alone will not defeat Isil, and that (as in Iraq) ground forces are essential if we want to rid Syria of Isil. But what is the plan to assemble these ground forces so necessary for a successful mission?  David Cameron’s answer today was more a hope than a plan. He referred to “70,000 Syrian opposition fighters - principally the Free Syrian Army (FSA) – with whom we can co-ordinate attacks on Isil”.

But it is an illusion to think that these fighters can provide the ground forces needed to complement aerial bombardment of Isil.  Many commentators have begun to doubt whether the FSA continues to exist as a coherent operational entity over the past few months. Coralling the myriad rebel groups into a disciplined force capable of fighting and occupying Isil territory is a heroic ambition, not a plan. And previous efforts to mobilize the rebels against Isil have been utter failures. Last month the Americans abandoned a $500m programme to train and turn 5,400 rebel fighters into a disciplined force to fight Isil. They succeeded in training just 60 fighters. And there have been incidents of American-trained fighters giving some of their US-provided equipment to the Nusra Front, an affiliate of Al Qaeda.

Why has it proven so hard to co-opt rebel forces in the fight against Isil? Because most of the various rebel groups are fighting a war against Assad, not against Isil.  Syria’s civil war is gruesome and complex, but it is fundamentally a Civil War between Assad’s forces and a variety of opponents of Assad’s regime. It would be a mistake for Britain to base a case for military action against Isil on the hope that thousands of disparate rebel forces can be persuaded to change their enemy – especially when the evidence so far is that they won’t.

This is a plan for military action that, at present, looks highly unlikely to succeed.  But what of the plan for peace? David Cameron today argued for the separation of the immediate task at hand - to strike against Isil in Syria – from the longer-term ambition of achieving a settlement in Syria and removing Assad.  But for Isil to be beaten, the two cannot be separated. Because it is only by making progress in developing a credible and internationally-backed plan for a post-Assad Syria that we will persuade Syrian Sunnis that fighting Isil will not end up helping Assad win the Civil War.  If we want not only to rely on rebel Sunnis to provide ground troops against Isil, but also provide stable governance in Isil-occupied areas when the bombing stops, progress on a settlement to Syria’s Civil War is more not less urgent.  Without it, the reluctance of Syrian Sunnis to think that our fight is their fight will undermine the chances of military efforts to beat Isil and bring basic order to the regions they control. 

This points us towards doubling down on the progress that has already been made in Vienna: working with the USA, France, Syria’s neighbours and the Gulf states, as well as Russia and Iran. We need not just a combined approach to ending the conflict, but the prospect of a post-war Syria that offers a place for those whose cooperation we seek to defeat Isil. No doubt this will strike some as insufficient in the face of the horrors perpetrated by Isil. But I fear that if we want not just to take action against Isil but to defeat them and prevent their return, it offers a better chance of succeeding than David Cameron’s proposal today. 

Stewart Wood is a former Shadow Cabinet minister and adviser to Ed Miliband. He tweets as @StewartWood.