New York braced as Floyd bears down on the city

HURRICANE Atlantic coast of America remains on high alert as 110mph storm heads north after killing five in the Carolinas and causing floods
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The Independent Online
NEW YORK was battening down the hatches last night as Hurricane Floyd careened up the coast towards Manhattan. Though its strength was much reduced, it still posed a serious threat to coastal communities from Virginia to Maine.

The storm had picked up speed and was moving at 29mph, twice as fast as before, but its winds had dropped to 75mph. Any further fall would cause the National Hurricane Center to stop classifying Floyd as a hurricane at all. But it could still do some serious damage, and cities as far north as Massachusetts were preparing for the worst.

Disaster preparations were under way in New York City, Cape Cod and along the coast of Maine to New Brunswick.

Schools were closed in New Jersey and New York, and in apartment blocks in Greenwich Village residents were warned of the imminent danger. Some financial markets were shut in New York and even Macy's, the landmark New York store, closed its doors.

Mayor Rudolph Giuliani said all non-emergency city employees would be allowed to leave work by 3pm, and urged private businesses to follow that example.

The concern was that the commute out of New York, a nightmare at the best of times, might become all but impossible as the heavy rains and storm surge - which a hurricane brings - could knock out roads and subways in areas across the northeast.

In Washington, US Congressmen used the excuse of the storm to take Thursday off. Federal workers were sent home and schools were closed, even though the storm's centre was some way to the east of America's capital.

Police declared a state of emergency in Atlantic City, which was gearing up to hold the Miss America pageant today. Winds of up to 60mph were expected to hit the city on Thursday and Friday. Atlantic City, the East Coast's premier casino town, is on a barrier island three miles offshore.

Floyd hit land in the early hours yesterday near Cape Fear, flooding the coast and sweeping away trees and boats with its 110mph winds and cutting electricity to hundreds of thousands of people More than a foot of rain fell. It swept on to Virginia and was moving to the northeast.

Four people were killed in North Carolina, where the vast storm made landfall, one in South Carolina and one in Virginia, all related to traffic accidents.

One person was also killed in the Bahamas, which Floyd hit earlier in the week. An entire Bahamian village was swept out to sea, but not before everyone had been evacuated.

The cost of the storm was expected to run into the hundreds of millions of dollars, not an inconsequential sum but far below the $25bn cost of Hurricane Andrew in 1993.

More than a million people in the Carolinas and Virginia were without power, and most of eastern North Carolina's peanut and tobacco crops were destroyed.

"It is a very dangerous storm," said North Carolina's Governor, James Hunt. "We've had terrific damage."

Thousands of people had lost their homes, he said. "We have had four deaths reported already and the great danger is that the tremendous flooding, the worst in our history, from this storm, could mean more people getting out into these flood waters today, trying to get back to their homes or other places."

Waist-high floods covered coastal areas. Hurricane Gert, which had been closely tracking Floyd's path, seemed likely to turn north and east, out into the Atlantic rather than hitting the US coast. It has strengthened to a Category Five, but should miss land, though some forecasts put it uncomfortably close to Bermuda.

Typhoon York lashed Hong Kong yesterday, leaving one person dead, one missing and nearly 500 injured as it uprooted trees, tossed ships about and shattered windows. Some 467 people were taken to hospital; 11 were in a serious condition. In 87mph winds, rescuers winched five crew off a sinking freighter. It is Hong Kong's most severe storm since Typhoon Ellen killed 10 people in 1983.