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Windy days in Florida turn to nightmares up north as Sandy wreaks havoc

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image Several subway tunnels flooded during Hurricane Sandy, resulting in a shutdown of the system that could last for days, causing headaches for the city’s five million commuters. Photo courtesy of brechtbug

With a gale-force wind diameter of nearly 1,000 miles, Hurricane Sandy became the largest hurricane by diameter ever observed in the North Atlantic, surpassing Hurricane Igor of 2010.

By Mitch Traphagen

A freak late-season hurricane that barreled into the largest population center of the United States also set a record on Monday. With a gale-force wind diameter of nearly 1,000 miles, Hurricane Sandy became the largest hurricane by diameter ever observed in the North Atlantic, surpassing Hurricane Igor of 2010.

An estimated 60 million people were impacted by the storm, which wreaked havoc on air travel worldwide as thousands of flights into the Mid-Atlantic and Northeastern states were cancelled. The storm also shut down ground traffic as Amtrak cancelled service in the Northeast corridor. The entire New York City transit system was shut down on Monday for only the second time in history, and also the second time in 14 months. Hundreds of thousands of people were under evacuation orders in Mid-Atlantic and Northeastern states.

According to TECO, more than 100 power line employees have been sent to the northeast to aid in restoring power failures due to the storm. Florida has often been the beneficiary of such support from power services around the nation in the aftermath of storms.

The storm made landfall in the area of Atlantic City, New Jersey, on Monday evening. The effects, however, were felt from North Carolina to Maine, with storm surge flooding the coast, including New York City. Last week, the passing storm created windy conditions in Florida and resulted in rip tide warnings along the east coast of the Sunshine State.

As the storm raged in Newark, New Jersey, Mayor Cory Booker, who has gained fame for once saving a city resident from a house fire and for his endless engagement with residents via Twitter, maintained his personal vigilance with social media. At one point, he offered to take a family to a shelter after a person tweeted that they were without power and had no candles or anything else for their children.

In New York City, a construction crane on a 90-story building partially collapsed in strong winds, leaving a large portion dangling over West 57th Street in Midtown. Police had cordoned off the street and surrounding area. Floodwaters were reported in various subway stations across the city. The New York Stock Exchange was closed for two days due to weather for the first time in more than a century.

Far away from the Tampa Bay Area, one casualty of the storm had a local connection. The HMS Bounty, en route from Connecticut to St. Petersburg, sunk in high winds and seas off the coast of North Carolina. The U.S. Coast Guard heroically rescued 14 crewmembers from life rafts, another crewmember was found unresponsive and later died, and the 63-year-old captain, Robin Walbridge of St. Petersburg, was still missing. The 180-foot ship had appeared in several movies, including 1962’s Mutiny on the Bounty starring Marlon Brando. Over the years, it had become an iconic part of the St. Petersburg waterfront. Although a stop in St. Petersburg was on the itinerary, the ship was scheduled to winter in Galveston, Texas.

As the storm made landfall in southern New Jersey, Maryland was beginning to flood and trees were downed in Massachusetts. By Wednesday morning, it was estimated by the AP that the storm caused the deaths of 55 people and more than seven million people were thought to be  without power. The total impact of the storm, however, may not be known for days.

Referred to as the “Frankenstorm” or the “Storm of a Lifetime,” it was unusual in several respects, not the least of which was a powerful hurricane traveling so far north so late in the season. In addition to sheer size, the storm also set a record for the lowest barometric pressure ever recorded north of Cape Hattaras, NC, at 942 millibars.

Adding to the woes of residents in the northeast, the storm merged with a powerful cold front and was penned in by a high-pressure system in the Atlantic, the result being days of damaging and potentially life-threatening conditions for millions of people.

On Monday evening, Florida Governor Rick Scott issued a statement offering assistance to states impacted by Hurricane Sandy, offering equipment and personnel expertise based on Florida’s long history of recovering from such storms.

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