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 a freelance writer based in the US who has formerly worked for the Guardian and the New Statesman. He tweets @NickyWoolf.

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Donald Trump’s offer to talk to North Korea tests the “madman” theory to the limit

Nixon also allegedly played up his unpredictability in the Cold War, with the US embroiled in Vietnam. 

Is Donald Trump’s announcement of talks with North Korea leader Kim Jong-un his Nixon goes to China moment? As recently as last October, Trump publicly rebuked his (now former) secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, for leaving the door open to talks, concluding that he was “wasting his time trying to negotiate with Little Rocket Man”. This followed Kim’s promise “to tame the mentally deranged US dotard with fire”. Now we are told that dotard and dictator are due to meet.

As Trump continues to break all the rules of post-Cold War international relations – on anything from alliance management to trade and nuclear non-proliferation – it is worth remembering that the so-called madman theory of diplomacy at least has a distinguished heritage.

Niccolò Machiavelli once wrote that “at times it is a very wise thing to simulate madness”. Richard Nixon was said to test the same proposition at the height of the Cold War, with the US embroiled in Vietnam. According to his chief of staff, HR Haldeman, Nixon had played up his unpredictability – supported by a back catalogue of ferocious Commie-bashing that stretched back two decades – in order to send a signal to Moscow, Beijing and Hanoi that he was prepared to countenance nuclear war.

According to Haldeman’s account, this was a lesson he had learned at the feet of Dwight Eisenhower, who had sought a truce to the Korean War in 1953 by getting word to the Chinese that he was willing to drop the bomb to bring hostilities to a close. By 1972, the year that Nixon went to China, his secretary of state Henry Kissinger also reflected on the president’s tried and tested strategy to “‘push so many chips into the pot’ that the other side will think we might be ‘crazy’ and might really go much further”.

So Donald Trump may yet become a nominee for the Nobel Peace Prize. If he succeeds in denuclearising the Korean peninsula he would be a more worthy recipient than Barack Obama in 2009. In truth, the gamble on direct talks with Kim Jong-un is based on an exaggerated sense of his own genius for deal-making rather than a careful reading of history or a painstakingly constructed plan. As such, it has none of the chessboard choreography that underlay nuclear diplomacy in the Cold War era. And it comes against the backdrop of continued chaos and confusion in the White House.

The story of how the opening for talks came about may well become a fable of the dysfunction in the court of Trump. On 8 March, Chung Eui-yong, national security adviser to President Moon Jae-in of South Korea, arrived at the White House for a scheduled meeting with his counterpart, HR McMaster. On learning of his presence, Trump asked to see Chung himself. In that discussion, Chung revealed that Kim Jong-un had made an offer to meet Trump in person. A meeting with a US president is something that the North Korean regime has sought for decades, but has resurfaced in the context of the improved relations between the two Koreas following the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics.

Before his officials could intervene to urge caution, Trump appears to have jumped on the suggestion of a summit and told the South Koreans to go public with the news. A surprised Mr Chung said that he would first have to call President Moon, who subsequently gave the green light. At 5pm, Trump popped into the White House briefing room to hint to reporters that a major announcement was coming on Korea. By 7pm, Chung found himself in the dusk on the White House driveway making an impromptu statement that the president of the United States had expressed a willingness to meet the North Korean leader.

The meeting has been pencilled in for May, though it is unclear where it will take place and on what terms. With Kim likely to refuse any visit to the White House, and the Americans eager to avoid handing a propaganda victory to his regime with a pageant in Pyongyang, the most likely outcome would be on it taking place in the demilitarised zone between North and South Korea.

That is if it happens at all. Both defence secretary James Mattis and McMaster (whose position is said to be under threat) are thought to be opposed to a meeting. The befuddled Tillerson, on an official visit in Africa, was taken ill and initially unavailable for comment. On 13 February, Trump tweeted that he had a new secretary of state.

If Trump calculates that his hard line has yielded this opening, then one could be forgiven for guessing that Kim might believe the same. Meanwhile, the apparent willingness to consider “denuclearisation” is so ambiguous as to mean almost anything. Having witnessed the fate of the last nuclear-armed dictator to “come nicely” and give up his missiles – Colonel Gaddafi in Libya – Kim is unlikely to be in a hurry to dispense with his greatest bargaining tool.

 At the end of last year, the view from White House watchers was that Trump was gearing up for war. Much was made of the saga of Victor D Cha, an academic and former Bush administration official, who had been expected to be confirmed as ambassador to South Korea before Christmas. Despite being known as a hawk, Cha had expressed opposition to a “bloody nose” or “limited strike” military option against the regime. Having set himself against some prominent voices on the National Security Council, his nomination was withdrawn. Now the administration is attempting a different course but Cha, writing in the New York Times, warns the stakes are just as high. If handled with care, a meeting might provide a unique opportunity brought about by an unlikely combination of bluster and force. But a failure would increase the likelihood of war by raising the stakes and exhausting the diplomatic last resort. 

John Bew is an NS contributing writer

John Bew is Professor of History and Foreign Policy at King’s College London and is leading a project looking at Britain’s place in the world for Policy Exchange. He is a New Statesman contributing writer and the author of Citizen Clem, an Orwell Prize-winning biography of Clement Attlee. 

This article first appeared in the 13 March 2018 issue of the New Statesman, Putin’s spy game