PhotoWherever you are, it's hard to escape the effects of Sandy, the massive and powerful storm that is threatening to turn the East Coast into a soggy mess.

The storm itself is so much bigger than your average tropical storm or hurricane that it is bringing high winds and heavy rains as far west as Indiana. More significantly, although it is arguably affecting only the eastern one-third or so of the country, it is the equivalent of a federal holiday just about everywhere.

Wall Street is closed. The federal government is closed. Airline travel is disrupted. Express package delivery is affected. The political campaign, seemingly a force of nature itself, has had the wind swept from its sails. Even Broadway and the Atlantic City casinos are closed.

In a nation that just a few days ago was on the edge of its seat over a baseball game and a presidential contest, such pursuits have been shown to be relatively trivial when the real forces of nature take charge.

Those who live in hurricane zones have been through this before, of course, but in an odd way that doesn't make it easier. It's the waiting that gets tedious, not to mention the wondering about whether this really will be the Big One. At least Californians aren't told days in advance that the earth is going to shift around. It just happens suddenly, and then it's over and it's either bad or not so bad.

It will be at least this time tomorrow before we know how bad it was this time. In the meantime, those in the path are trying to be patient while everyone else is no doubt tired of hearing about it. 

Economic effects

PhotoBeyond the human toll, a storm of this magnitude could have a devastating effect on the nation's still-fragile economy.  On the other hand, as economists always hasten to add, it could also be beneficial.

"Disasters can give the ailing construction sector a boost, and unleash smart reinvestment that actually improves stricken areas and the lives of those that survive intact. Ultimately, Americans, as they always seem to do, will emerge stronger in the wake of disaster and rebuild better — making a brighter future in the face of tragedy," said University of Maryland Robert H. Smith School of Business economist Peter Morici, while also conceding that in the short term, damage from the storm could be as high as $35 billion.

Morici, quoted in the Washington Business Journal. said that "rebuilding after Sandy, especially in an economy with high unemployment and underused resources in the construction industry, will unleash at least $15 billion to $20 billion in new direct private spending — likely more as many folks rebuild larger than before, and the capital stock that emerges will prove more economically useful and productive."  

Perhaps no one is more scared of Frankenstorm than retailers who had been counting on a burst of last-minute Halloween spending, which had been expected to hit $8 billion this year.

With the country's most populous region still likely to be hunkered down inside on Halloween, what retailers had hoped would be a treat is likely to turn into a big rotten trick. 

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The sea rises over a marina on Long Island's Great South Bay Monday morning. Photo by Tom Thorson

Biggest ever

Schools, government offices and mass transit closed today from Washington to Boston and beyond as Hurricane Sandy, which killed at least five dozen people in the Caribbean, took aim at more than 60 million as it moved up the East Coast towards the country's most densely populated region.

As it moves north, the giant storm is expected to meet up with two other powerful winter storm systems, creating an even more threatening hybrid. At mid-morning Monday, it officially became the largest tropical storm ever recorded in the Atlantic.

Crisis map

Google's Crisis Map combines information from the National Hurricane Center, American Red Cross and other trusted sources. It offers details about the storm's current and forecasted locations, emergency shelter locations, live webcam feeds, public safety alerts, traffic conditions, and a wealth of other vital information.

The New York Times, meanwhile, is publishing a state-by-state guide to Sandy. Both the Times and the Wall Street Journal have turned off their paywalls during the storm. 

Besides hurricane-force winds, the massive storm system is expected to blanket the region with sheets of rain, high winds and heavy snow, threatening New York Harbor, Long Island Sound and other coastal areas with flash flooding.

Mandatory evacuation orders were issued in much of the New York-New Jersey metropolitan area, as well as along the exposed outer coastlines of Maryland, Virginia and Delaware.  Beaches began to disappear and in Ocean City, Maryland, a large pier collapsed.

Officials warned that some barrier islands, many lined with expensive beach homes, could be wiped out by a massive storm surge.  

Outages a certainty

Power outages and communications interruptions are expected to last for days and possibly weeks, as the storm-soaked ground and high winds combine to fell trees throughout the region.

Phone companies are trying to prepare -- topping off fuel for backup generators and lining up disaster recovery trailers to move into flooded areas after the storm passes. Verizon says its network is operating normally so far (as of about 2 p.m).

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President Barack Obama receives an update on the ongoing response to Hurricane Sandy at the National Response Coordination Center at FEMA headquarters in Washington, D.C., (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

Local and state governments scrambled to prepare for the brewing disaster. In Fairfax County, Va., officials issued these preparedness tips:

1.)    Supplies: Get your supplies – water, medicines, canned food, cash, pet food and more. We strongly recommend that you be prepared with at least three days of supplies.

2.)    Gas: Fill your car’s gas tank. Gas stations will be in short supply in a power outage.

3.)    Generators: If you have a generator or plan to buy one, please be familiar with safety tips.

4.)    Food Safety:  Power outages and flooding may happen as a result of a tropical storm or hurricane, so have a plan for keeping food safe. Have a cooler on hand to keep food cold, and group food together in the freezer so it stays cold longer.

5.)    Outdoor Items: Plan to secure all outdoor furniture, decorations, garbage cans and anything else that is not tied down.

6.)    Trees: Remove dead limbs on trees that could fall on your property (home, car, land).

7.)    Leaves: Clear leaves from storm drains, gutters and other areas that, if clogged, could cause flooding.

8.)   Weather Forecasts: Pay close attention to weather forecasts for the latest storm track. We will provide guidance as needed. Purchase or charge up your weather radio. If you have a weather radio that uses SAME codes, Fairfax County’s SAME code is 051059.

9.)    Tech Ready: View our Digital Preparedness Kit, which is an important way to stay informed and connected before, during and after an emergency.

10.) Phone Numbers: Save important phone numbers to your phone or write them down, especially your power company. Always report a power outage.

Best battery

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A beach house on Long Island awaits the rising tide. Photo by Tom Thorson

Consumer Reports magazine chimed in with some suggestions. If you're getting your flashlights ready to do battle, the magazine says the Energizer Ultimate lithium lasted the longest in the Consumer Reports flashlight tests, making it their recommendation for consumers who don’t want to get caught in the dark.  

Also check out Consumer Reports generators ratings, and if generators in your area are all sold out CR has identified power inverters that can keep your refrigerator running when attached to your car battery. 

 


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