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.

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We can't rush to war in Syria without a plan for peace

A recent visit to Iraq has left me doubtful that the Prime Minister's plan can suceed, says Liam Byrne.

As shock of the Paris lifts and the fightback starts, all eyes are now the prime minister and, at last, the 'full spectrum response' we were promised months ago.

But what's needed now is not just another plan to bomb the ground -  but a plan to hold the ground we win. Four days in Northern Iraq has made me deeply sceptical about air strikes alone. It's convinced me that after the mistakes of Iraq and Libya, we cannot have yet another effort to win the battle and lose the war. Without politics and aid, projectiles and air-raids will fail. It's as simple as that.

After the horror of Paris it's easy to ignore that in Iraq and Syria, Isil is now in retreat. That's why these animals are lashing out with such barbarism abroad. In the ground war, Kurdistan's fighters in particular, known as the Peshmerga - or 'those who face death' -  have now shattered the myth of Isil's invincibility.

A fortnight ago, I travelled through Northern Iraq with a group of MP's arriving on the day the key town of Sinjar was stormed, cutting the umbilical cord - route 47 - between Isil's spiritual home of Mosul in Iraq and Isil HQ in Raqqa. And on the frontline in Kirkuk in north west Iraq, two miles from Isil territory, Commander Wasta Rasul briefed us on a similar success.

On the great earthwork defences here on the middle of a vast brown plain with the flares of the oil pumps on the horizon, you can see through binoculars, Isil's black flags. It was here, with RAF support, that Isil was driven out of the key oil-fields last summer. That's why air cover can work. And despite their best efforts - including a suicide attack with three Humvees loaded with explosives - Isil's fight back failed. Along a 1,000 km battle-front, Isil is now in retreat and their capitals aren't far from chaos.

But, here's the first challenge. The military advance is now at risk from economic collapse. Every political leader I met in Iraq was blunt: Kurdistan's economy is in crisis. Some 70% of workers are on the public payroll. Electricity is free. Fuel is subsidised. In other words, the Government's bills are big.

But taxes are non-existent. The banks don't work. Inward investment is ensnared in red tape. And when the oil price collapsed last year, the Government's budget fell through the floor.

Now, in a bust up with Baghdad, cash has been slashed to Kurdistan, just as a wave of 250,000 refugees arrived, along with over a million internally displaced people fleeing Da'esh and Shiite militias in the south. Nearly 6,000 development projects are stalled and people - including the Peshmerga - haven't been paid for months.

We have brave allies in the fight against Isil - but bravery doesn't buy them bullets. As we gear up the battle against Isil, it's now vital we help boost the Kurd's economic strength - or their sinews of war will weaken. There's an old Kurdish saying; 'the mountains are our only friends'. It's an expression born of years of let-down. In the fight against Da'esh, it's a mistake we can't afford to repeat today.

Second, everyone I met in Iraq was clear that unless the Sunni community can find alternative leadership to Isil then any ground we win may soon be lost, if not to Isil, then “Isil II”. Let's remember Isil didn't just 'emerge'. It grew from a tradition of political Islam decades old and mutated like a Frankenstein monster first by Al-Qaeda, then Al-Qaeda in Iraq, then the Al-Nusra front and now Isil.

Crucial to this warped perversion has been the total breakdown of trust between Iraq's Sunni residents - and the Shi'ite dominated government in Baghdad. In Mosul, for instance, when the Iraqi security forces left, they were stoned in their Humvees by local residents who felt completely humiliated. In refugee camps, it's not hard to find people who didn't flee Da'esh but Shi'ite militia groups.

Now, tracking surveys in Mosul report tension is rising. The Isil regime is sickening people with an obsessive micro-management of the way everyone lives and prays - down to how men must style their beards - with brutal punishment for anyone stepping out of line. Mobile phone coverage is cut. Food prices are rising. Electricity supplies are sporadic. Residents are getting restless. But, the challenge of gaining - and then holding a city of 3 million people will quite simply prove impossible without alternative Sunni leaders: but who are they? Where will they come from? The truth is peace will take politics.

There's one final piece of the puzzle, the PM needs to reflect on. And that's how we project a new unity of purpose. We desperately need to make the case that our cause is for both western and Islamic freedom.

I serve the biggest Muslim community in Britain - and amongst my constituents, especially young people, there's a profound sense that the conduct of this debate is making them feel like the enemy within. Yet my constituents hate Isil's violence as much as anyone else.

In Iraqi Kurdistan, I heard first-hand the extraordinary unity of purpose to destroy Isil with total clarity: “Your fight,” said the Kurdistan prime minister to us “is our fight.” In the refugee camps at Ashti and Bakhara, you can see why. Over a million people have been displaced in Kurdistan - grandparents, parents, children - fleeing to save their children - and losing everything on the way. “Da'esh,” said one very senior Kurdistan official 'aren't fighting to live. They're fighting to die. They're not battling a country or a system. They're battling humanity".

Here in Europe, we are hardwired to the fortunes of Central Asia, by trade, energy needs, investment and immigration. It's a vast region home to the seminal struggles of Israel/Palestine, Sunni/Shia and India/ Pakistan. Yet it's a land with which we share traditions of Abrahamic prophets, Greek philosophy and Arabic science. We need both victory and security. So surely we can't try once again to win a war without a plan for winning a peace. It's time for the prime minister to produce one.

Liam Byrne is Labour MP for Birmingham Hodge Hill, cofounder of the UK-China Young Leaders Roundtable and author of Turning to Face the East: How Britain Prospers in the Asian Century.