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.

11:36PM

Mayor Bloomberg of New York City:

 

 


11:23PM

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:

 

 


11:12PM

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.

 


10:52PM

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:

 

 


10:22PM

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.

 


10:10PM

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

 


10:05PM

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

 

 


10:01PM

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

 

 

 


9:41PM

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

 

 


9:32PM

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: 

 


9:27PM

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

http://instagram.com/p/RYuVQVG6mq/

 


9:13PM

 

 


9:00PM

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.

 


8:55PM

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.

 


8:40PM

 

 

 


8:32PM

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.

 


8:29PM

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.

 


8:22PM

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

 

 

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

 


8:17PM

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

 

 

 

 


8:06PM

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

 


7:59PM

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.

 


7:52PM

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)

 


7:44PM

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

 

 


7:27PM

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.

 


7:14PM

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.

 


6:55PM

A neat tidbit:

 

 


6:24PM

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.

 

 


6:06PM

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.

 

 


5:50PM

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.

 


5:35PM

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.

 


5:10PM

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

 


4:36PM

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."

 


3:43PM

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:


3:28PM

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.

 


3:21PM

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.

http://hint.fm/wind/

 


2:51PM

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

 

 


2:43PM

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.

 


2:35PM

This dramatic picture has been circulating Twitter of the guards at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Arlington Cemetary, near Washington DC:

...in 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.

(h/t istwitterwrong.tumblr.com)

 


2:24PM

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.

http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2012/10/28/nyregion/nyt-webcam.html

 


2:17PM

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 http://www.coned.com/sm/outageinfo.asp#

 


1:59PM

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.

 


1:44PM

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.


1:25PM

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.

 


12:55PM

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.

ANDREY BORODULIN/AFP/GETTY IMAGES
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Letter from Donetsk: ice cream, bustling bars and missiles in eastern Ukraine

In Donetsk, which has been under the control of Russian backed rebels since April 2014, the propaganda has a hermetic, relentless feel to it.

Eighty-eight year-old Nadya Moroz stares through the taped-up window of her flat in Donetsk, blown in by persistent bombing. She wonders why she abandoned her peaceful village for a “better life” in Donetsk with her daughter, just months before war erupted in spring 2014.

Nadya is no stranger to upheaval. She was captured by the Nazis when she was 15 and sent to shovel coal in a mine in Alsace, in eastern France. When the region was liberated by the Americans, she narrowly missed a plane taking refugees to the US, and so returned empty-handed to Ukraine. She never thought that she would see fighting again.

Now she and her daughter Irina shuffle around their dilapidated flat in the front-line district of Tekstilshchik. Both physically impaired, they seldom venture out.

The highlight of the women’s day is the television series Posledniy Yanychar (“The Last Janissary”), about an Ottoman slave soldier and his dangerous love for a free Cossack girl.

They leave the dog-walking to Irina’s daughter, Galya, who comes back just in time. We turn on the TV a few minutes before two o’clock to watch a news report on Channel One, the Russian state broadcaster. It shows a montage of unnerving images: Nato tanks racing in formation across a plain, goose-stepping troops of Pravy Sektor (a right-wing Ukrainian militia) and several implicit warnings that a Western invasion is nigh. I wonder how my hosts can remain so impassive in the face of such blatant propaganda.

In Donetsk, which has been under the control of Russian-backed rebels since April 2014, the propaganda has a hermetic, relentless feel to it. If the TV doesn’t get you, the print media, radio and street hoardings will. Take a walk in the empty central district of the city and you have the creeping sense of being transported back to what it must have been like in the 1940s. Posters of Stalin, with his martial gaze and pomaded moustache, were taboo for decades even under the Soviets but now they grace the near-empty boulevards. Images of veterans of the 1941-45 war are ubiquitous, breast pockets ablaze with medals. Even the checkpoints bear the graffiti: “To Berlin!” It’s all inching closer to a theme-park re-enactment of the Soviet glory years, a weird meeting of propaganda and nostalgia.

So completely is the Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR) in thrall to Russia that even its parliament has passed over its new flag for the tricolour of the Russian Federation, which flutters atop the building. “At least now that the municipal departments have become ministries, everyone has been promoted,” says Galya, wryly. “We’ve got to have something to be pleased about.”

The war in the Donbas – the eastern region of Ukraine that includes Donetsk and Luhansk – can be traced to the street demonstrations of 2013-14. The former president Viktor Yanukovych, a close ally of Vladimir Putin, had refused to sign an agreement that would have heralded closer integration with the EU. In late 2013, protests against his corrupt rule began in Maidan Nezalezhnosti (“Independence Square”) in Kyiv, as well as other cities. In early 2014 Yanukovych’s security forces fired on the crowds in the capital, causing dozens of fatalities, before he fled.

Putin acted swiftly, annexing Crimea and engineering a series of “anti-Maidans” across the east and south of Ukraine, bussing in “volunteers” and thugs to help shore up resistance to the new authority in Kyiv. The Russian-backed rebels consolidated their power base in Donetsk and Luhansk, where they established two “independent” republics, the DPR and its co-statelet, the Luhansk People’s Republic (LPR). Kyiv moved to recover the lost territories, sparking a full-scale war that raged in late 2014 and early 2015.

Despite the so-called “peace” that arrived in autumn 2015 and the beguiling feeling that a certain normality has returned – the prams, the ice creams in the park, the bustling bars – missiles still fly and small-arms fire frequently breaks out. You can’t forget the conflict for long.

One reminder is the large number of dogs roaming the streets, set free when their owners left. Even those with homes have suffered. A Yorkshire terrier in the flat next door to mine started collecting food from its bowl when the war began and storing it in hiding places around the flat. Now, whenever the shelling starts, he goes to his caches and binge-eats in a sort of atavistic canine survival ritual.

Pet shops are another indicator of the state of a society. Master Zoo in the city centre has an overabundance of tropical fish tanks (too clunky to evacuate) and no dogs. In their absence, the kennels have been filled with life-size plastic hounds under a sign strictly forbidding photography, for reasons unknown. I had to share my rented room with a pet chinchilla called Shunya. These furry Andean rodents, fragile to transport but conveniently low-maintenance, had become increasingly fashionable before the war. The city must still be full of them.

The bombing generally began “after the weekends, before holidays, Ukraine’s national days and before major agreements”, Galya had said. A new round of peace talks was about to start, and I should have my emergency bag at the ready. I shuddered back up to the ninth floor of my pitch-dark Tekstilshchik tower block. Shunya was sitting quiet and unruffled in his cage, never betraying any signs of stress. Free from Russian television, we girded ourselves for the night ahead.

This article first appeared in the 05 February 2015 issue of the New Statesman, Putin's war