NEW YORK – Almost 12,000 flights have been grounded as Hurricane Sandy thwarted travel up and down the U.S. East Coast, and airlines warned it could be days before normal schedules resume.
That number is expected to grow as the slow-moving “Frankenstorm” churns its way up the coast, whipping up strong winds, heavy rains and thick snow once it encounters a cold front coming down from Canada.
Three smaller coastal airports shut down completely Monday and many others – including as far inland as Philadelphia – may as well have, as nearly every flight was cancelled.
Some 1,302 flights were cancelled on Sunday as airlines prepared for the storm, according to the online aviation tracking service flightaware.com.
Another 7,016 were cancelled Monday, including 1,220 in Philadelphia and around 1,000 at each of New York’s three airports.
A further 3,386 flights already have been cancelled for Tuesday and 147 on Wednesday.
Storm-driven waves crashed ashore and flooded seafront communities across a swathe of the eastern United States on Monday as Hurricane Sandy barreled towards land.
Officials warned that the threat to life and property was “unprecedented” and ordered hundreds of thousands of residents in cities and towns from New England to North Carolina to evacuate their homes and seek shelter.
The storm, a deadly combination of a tropical hurricane rolling north from the Caribbean and fierce wintry winds approaching from Canada, was expected to leave tens of millions without power, and trigger coastal and river flooding.
Amtrak trains up and down the coast were cancelled until Wednesday and tens of thousands of travelers were marooned in airports, with flights grounded.
“The most important message to the public I have right now, is please listen to what your state and local officials are saying. When they tell you to evacuate, you need to evacuate,” President Barack Obama said.
The New York Stock Exchange, the Nasdaq and the futures markets in Chicago were closed on Monday, some of the world’s richest cities were effectively shut for business and the U.S. election campaign was severely disrupted.
The category one hurricane, which has already killed at least 66 people in the Caribbean, is expected to make landfall near the evacuated gambling haven of Atlantic City, New Jersey, in the early evening.
Forecasters, however, have warned that the storm’s effects could extend all the way from North Carolina to New England. Parts of New York and Boston were subject to evacuation orders, and Washington was rain-swept and deserted.
As it approached, Sandy’s maximum sustained winds strengthened to 90 miles per hour from 75 mph in the morning, and at 1800 GMT, its eye was located 110 miles southeast of Atlantic City.
The center of Sandy is expected to make landfall along or just south of the southern New Jersey coast by early evening, the National Hurricane Center said.
With just eight days until polling day, Obama canceled an appearance in the swing state of Florida, returning to the White House to steer the relief effort while citizens watched the weather on live webcams.
“The election will take care of itself next week,” Obama said. “Right now, our No. 1 priority is to make sure that we are saving lives … and that we respond as quickly as possible to get the economy back on track.”
Both the Democratic incumbent and his Republican rival, Mitt Romney, were keen to stay on top of public sentiment regarding the storm, given the memory of Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Romney also cancelled some appearances.
In Costa Rica
The alert status on the east coast of the U.S. also makes planning a trip from Costa Rica to the United States difficult.
Juan Santamaría International Airport (SJO) reported on its website (www.aeris.cr) that flight LR 660 on Monday at 6:45 pm to New York and flight UA 1079 on Tuesday at 7:28 a.m. to Newark were canceled due to weather. More cancelled flights are expected as the powerful hurricane makes landfall.
Travelers are advised to contact airlines for more information.