As Hurricane Sandy approached its predicted Oct. 29 landfall, “the entire federal family,” businesses, and non-profits worked together to handle the storm, according to Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) administrator Craig Fugate.
FEMA is bringing supplies including water, food, generators, and cots to multiple staging areas in different states, said Fugate at a telephone press conference. The agency is delivering giant generators to states—the kind that can power hospitals or water treatment plants, according to Fugate. FEMA is also consulting with the Army Corps of Engineers to see what the states will need.
By 2:30 p.m. on Oct. 29, seven states and the District of Columbia had federal emergency declarations. That means FEMA can already start giving commodities to the states and D.C. The agency will give money later on.
The Disaster Response Fund has $3.6 billion on hand, according to Fugate.
“As Sandy keeps moving closer to the coast, we are rapidly moving from preparation to response,” he said.
It is hard to predict exactly when and where the storm will come ashore, “when a storm is tilted and sheared and beginning to lose its tropical characteristics,” said NOAA’s National Hurricane Center (NHC) director Dr. Rick Knabb, also on the conference call.
This storm is unusual because a hurricane has merged with a winter storm in a way that makes the hurricane much larger and more diffuse, while it still has hurricane-force winds up to 90 miles per hour. Because of those factors, it is not too relevant to focus on landfall, according to Knabb.
The full moon is not that important, either, he said. It may only add about one foot to the high tide and storm surge, expected Oct. 30. Rainfall, however, is very important; in some places, rainfall could exceed one foot, contributing to floods and flash floods. In the Appalachian Mountains, Virginia, and West Virginia, the storm “also has a snow component,” said Knabb.
“This is a multi-hazard event.”
—Dr. Rick Knabb, Director, NOAA’s National Hurricane Center
“This is a multi-hazard event,” he said. “Because it’s so large, not like a hurricane with a tight cone, I would not like to try to pinpoint the effects of landfall.”
Predicted coastal storm surges may last for days and range from 4 feet to 11 feet above ground level. The amount of flooding that will cause depends upon local conditions such as the lay of the land near the shore and the depth of the water offshore. In a very flat, low coastal area, the surge could travel a long distance inland, for example.
“We’re looking at inland flooding,” said Fugate. “The first thing is search and rescue, then flooded homes, will people need housing assistance, then recovery.”
He said that FEMA and its partners are evaluating housing options near areas expected to flood.
FEMA is planning ahead in case Sandy’s effects linger until Voting Day, Nov. 6. It is too soon to know if the storm will affect voters, but FEMA has considered how to help keep polling places open with generators or other assistance.
The very top priority is safety both during and after any disaster, according to Fugate.
“Sometimes you see people prepare well, weather a storm, then lose their lives afterwards in an accident,” he said. He added that he hopes people will be very careful throughout the disaster and recovery process, and that he worries about people who do not evacuate, especially when the Coast Guard and other first responders have to go look for them.
“We already have a rescue underway in North Carolina,” he said, referring to the crew of the HMS Bounty replica ship. So far, the Coat Guard has rescued 14 of the 16 people who were forced to abandon the sinking vessel. They are still searching for the two who are missing.
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