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Sandy leaves 50 dead; Obama warns crisis ‘not yet over’

New York(PTI): Sandy, the most devastating storm to hit the US in decades, killed nearly 50 people as it struck densely populated US East coast region leaving a trail of destruction and millions of water-logged homes in darkness.

The storm hit the East coast region spanning the Eastern Seaboard from North Carolina to Connecticut, cutting off communication and leaving millions of people shivering without power as thousands were evacuated from flooded neighbourhoods.

Among the US states hit by the megastorm, New York and New Jersey bore the brunt of the disaster. In New York, where 18 people died, the New York Stock Exchange was shut for two straight days for the first time since 1888.

The trail of destruction left by the monster storm prompted President Barack Obama to declare it a “major disaster” in New York and New Jersey.

The two states combined together have one of the largest concentrations of Indian-Americans in the US. Quite a number of Indian-Americans, particularly in New Jersey, had to leave their flooded homes and had to be evacuated.

Obama, who suspended his campaign and took charge of the rescue operations, described the crisis as “heartbreaking”, warning Americans that the storm was “not yet over”.

“This storm is not yet over,” Obama said during his trip to the headquarters of the American Red Cross in Washington.

Obama drove down to the Red Cross office headquarters to review rescue and recovery operation and said the federal government would push hard to provide resources to the States badly hit by Sandy.

According to a White House statement, Obama will travel to New Jersey to have a personal assessment of the devastation and take stock of the situation on the ground.

Recovery efforts took off late last night. But thousands of people waited in shelters, not knowing whether their homes had survived. The number of people shivering without power fell below 7 million, down from nearly 8 million.

Two of the New York area’s major airports, John F Kennedy and Newark Liberty, were set to reopen today together with the New York stock exchange and the Nasdaq exchange, which had been suspended since Monday in the markets’ first closure since the 9/11 attacks of 2001, officials said.

Meanwhile, three US nuclear power reactors remained shut down. Amid worries that waters could overwhelm the reactors as happened in Japan’s Fukushima nuclear emergency last year, authorities yesterday said there were no risks to the public.

New Jersey’s power company PSEG Nuclear shut down its Salem 1 unit at Hancocks Bridge on the Delaware river. The Nine Mile Point unit 1 in Scriba, New York, and the Indian Point reactor 3 in Buchanan, New York were also closed.

Sandy slammed the coastline of New Jersey with 80 mph winds pushing seawater up by an unprecedented 13-feet in New York City, and bringing the US presidential campaign to a halt a week before the November 6 polls.

Storm damage was projected at USD 10 billion to USD 20 billion, meaning it could prove to be one of the costliest natural disasters in US history.

The deaths were reported from across seven states — New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Connecticut, Maryland, North Carolina and West Virginia.

New York City, which saw a four-metre storm surge, expects the toll to rise, said Mayor Bloomberg.

“In addition to the lives we lost, the damage we suffered across the city is clearly extensive and it will not be repaired overnight,” Bloomberg told reporters.

“This was a devastating storm, maybe the worst that we have ever experienced,” he said.

In Staten Island, a large tanker ship ran aground.

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