Red flags fly from a lifeguard station as Hurricane Sandy passes offshore to the east, Friday, Oct. 26, 2012, in Miami Beach. Lynne Sladky/AP/Press Association Images
hurricane sandy

'Frankenstorm' downgraded to tropical storm

Meteorologists have downplayed the rhetoric around Hurricane Sandy.

AFTER LEAVING 44 people dead in the Caribbean, hurricane Sandy was downgraded to a tropical storm today as it inched toward the US East Coast, threatening to wreak havoc on a large slice of the country in the final week of an election campaign.

What has been dubbed Frankenstorm was expected to make landfall somewhere between Virginia and Massachusetts during the frenzied final week of campaigning in advance of the 6 November presidential, congressional and local vote.

Concern is mounting that storm damage and power outages could have a major impact on voter turnout, polling station readiness, and last-minute campaigning by President Barack Obama and his Republican rival Mitt Romney.

US Vice President Joe Biden cancelled a Saturday appearance in Virginia Beach to allow officials to focus on storm preparations and Romney did the same.

Owners remove their boats from the water at the Atlantic Highlands Marina. Image: Joe Epstein/AP/Press Association Images

Forecasters predicted the storm could collide early next week with a seasonal “nor’easter” weather system that would super-charge it while dragging it west on to land and hitting states such as Virginia, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, New York, Massachusetts and even inland Ohio.

Before then, Sandy is expected to lumber up the coast as a huge, slow-moving system while the eastern United States braces for huge tidal surges, power outages, inland flooding and even heavy snowfall on high ground far from the coast.

As emergency response teams and frightened families stocked up on essential supplies, meteorologists said Sandy could affect as much as a third of the country, from the Carolinas up to New England and as far inland as Ohio.

“It is going to be a challenging storm,” Federal Emergency Management Agency administrator Craig Fugate said, as officials warned it was too early to say when and where the storm would make its initial landfall.

“We know somebody is going to get hit. We just cannot say who that somebody is going to be,” said James Franklin, branch chief of the Miami-based National Hurricane Center (NHC), during a telephone press conference Friday.

Meteorologists have nicknamed the unusual confluence of weather patterns a  Frankenstorm, because it will hit just before Hallowe’en on 31 October and is composed of parts from different sources, as was Frankenstein’s Monster.

Hurricane specialist Richard Pasch looks at a satellite image of Hurricane Sandy at the National Hurricane Centre. Image: Lynne Sladky/AP/Press Association Images

The sprawling US Navy base in Norfolk, Virginia said it was sending an entire fleet of ships out to sea to get out of the way of the storm.

Further north, the mayor of New York, Michael Bloomberg, said the city was ready for anything Sandy could throw at it, and cautioned against panic.

Authorities in the states of Maryland, New York, Pennsylvania, Virginia, the US capital Washington and a coastal county in North Carolina declared a state of emergency, directing officials to speed up storm preparations.

One quirk of Sandy is that whereas most storms tend to drift east after making landfall, this one could head inland because of a separate weather system high up in the atmosphere and far north, over southeast Canada.

Louis Uccellini, director of the National Centers for Environmental Prediction, said the danger of coastal flooding was higher because Sandy would strike during a full moon, when tides are already at their highest.

Sandy could last through several tidal cycles and cause repeated flooding.

Early Saturday, Sandy was about 350 miles (560 kilometers) southeast of Charleston, South Carolina, packing maximum sustained winds of 70 miles (110 kilometers) per hour and moving north at 10 miles (17 kilometers) per hour.

On Friday, the storm packed maximum sustained winds of 75 miles (120 kilometers) per hour, which was enough to classify it as a Category 1 hurricane on the five-point Saffir-Simpson wind scale.

“Sandy weakens, but is expected to remain a large storm with widespread impacts into early next week,” the NHC said.

The announcement added that the storm was expected to continued moving “parallel to the southeast coast of the United States through the weekend.”

In some areas of the Bahamas and then later in Florida and elsewhere in the United States, flood waters could reach three to five feet (one to 1.5 meters) in depth if the peak surge coincides with high tide.

The Caribbean island chain reported power and phone lines downed, tourists stranded and trees uprooted. Schools, government offices, airports and bridges were to remain closed Friday.

Sandy claimed 11 lives in eastern Cuba, including several people who died in the rubble of buildings that collapsed in the fury of the massive storm.

The hurricane damaged hundreds of homes, flooding crops and downing trees, according to media reports.

On Wednesday, Sandy unleashed its wrath on Jamaica, where one person died, and on Haiti, where 29 people died. Two people were reported dead in the Dominican Republic and one in the Bahamas.

Residents walk through the rubble from homes that were damaged by Hurricane Sandy in Santiago de Cuba. Image: Franklin Reyes/AP/Press Association Images

America prepares for superstorm

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