Just no escape from New York: Raymond Whitaker on storms that brought disaster and a state of emergency to the north-east seaboard

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The Independent Online
THE states of New York, New Jersey and Connecticut declared emergencies after one of the worst storms this century hit the north-eastern seaboard of the United States on Friday, killing at least two people and bringing New York city to a halt.

Winds gusting up to hurricane force blew windows out of skyscrapers, while heavy rain and snow caused flooding across several states. On Franklin D Roosevelt Drive in Manhattan, frogmen waded to stranded cars to rescue their occupants. In Connecticut, one holiday home was washed out to sea and another blown off its foundations. A courthouse in New Jersey was evacuated after high winds threatened to blow off its dome, and about 250,000 homes were blacked out.

New York's financial markets and hundreds of businesses closed early because of the storms, but many workers found there was no way to get home because flooding and power failures brought most of the subway system to a standstill for much of the day. Ferries across New York Harbour were unable to sail, while La Guardia Airport was closed by squalls and flooded runways. The storm also delayed relief flights to Somalia from military bases in northern New York state.

The effect of the disaster was magnified by exceptionally high tides, caused by a full moon which raised sea levels about 4ft above normal. Large areas along the coast of New Jersey, Long Island, Connecticut and Massachusetts were flooded as some of the highest waves this century wrecked shores and seawalls. 'We're boarding up as fast as we possibly can. Say a prayer for us,' said Mary Franchi, manager of the Bass Point apartments at Nahant, Massachusetts, where waves crashing into the sea wall leaped 30ft in the air.

Hundreds of people in Connecticut were evacuated from low-lying areas in Milford and East Haven and taken to shelters. National Guardsmen were called out to help evacuate thousands more from shore communities in Massachusetts and New Jersey. There were heavy snowfalls in Pennsylvania, the mountains of West Virginia and parts of Connecticut and Massachusetts. The Governor of Virginia, Douglas Wilder, sent the National Guard to evacuate up to 2,500 residents from rural areas around Winchester who have been snowbound since Thursday.

Two women lost their lives in New Jersey, one when a roof blew off a building in Jersey City, across the Hudson River from Manhattan, the other when her car was struck head-on by a tow truck in the south of the state. In Westchester County, north of New York city, a man was presumed dead after his car was caught in floodwaters.

There were some bizarre sights among the chaos, with fish in New York streets and emergency officials reporting that as some faced disaster, others took to rafting in the treacherous waters. 'People do strange things in times of crisis, but it's not a day to learn surfing,' said Paul Maniscalco, a command officer of the New York emergency medical service.

(Photograph omitted)