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Megastorm Sandy hits US, at least 10 dead

New York: At least 10 people were killed as megastorm Sandy battered the US East Coast today with fierce winds and heavy rain, uprooting trees, power lines and plunging several areas in darkness.

Sandy, one of the biggest storms ever to hit the US, battered the coastline of New Jersey, where a large number of Indian families reside, with 80 mph winds, pushing seawater up by an unprecedented 13-feet in New York City.

Floods inundated large number of areas, leaving nearly 5.5 million people without electricity in New York and New Jersey.

The storm left a trail of death, and the toll is expected to mount. Two people perished in Mendham, New Jersey, when a tree struck their car, officials said.

In New York state, at least six persons were killed, including a 30-year-old man who died when a tree fell on his house. Two people died in other incidents.

It also flooded ground-zero, the site of the 9/11 terror attacks here. There was also report of damage to facade of a building in Manhattan.

Authorities evacuated patients and staff of a New York city hospital after superstorm Sandy hit the East Coast.

According to initial estimates, the devastation has resulted in a loss of USD 10-20 billion.

The US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) declared an alert at the Oyster Creek nuclear power plant in New Jersey, which is currently in a regularly scheduled outage, as the water level reached the minimum high level criteria.

"Water level is rising in the intake structure due to a combination of a rising tide, wind direction and storm surge. It is anticipated water levels will begin to abate within the next several hours," the NRC said.

According to NRC, no plants had to shut down as a result of the storm although several plants were already out of service for regularly scheduled refuelling and maintenance outages. All plants remain in a safe condition, with emergency equipment available if needed and NRC inspectors on-site.

John F Kennedy airport in New York City and other airports in the region have been shut down with more than 13,000 flights being cancelled in the storm affected areas.

New York and New Jersey registered a record level of rainfall and shut down major transportation arteries.

Emergency has been declared in Connecticut, Delaware, the District of Columbia, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania and Rhode Island.

The storm affected more than 50 million people along the entire East Coast from North Carolina to New Hampshire.

President Barack Obama cancelled his election campaign schedule mid-way and rushed back to the White House to personally monitor the situation.

"I am not worried at this point about the impact on the election. I'm worried about the impact on families, and I'm worried about the impact on our first responders. I'm worried about the impact on our economy and on transportation," Obama told reporters at a White House news conference soon after he held a situation room meeting on the hurricane preparedness.

"You know, the election will take care of itself next week. Right now, our number-one priority is to make sure that we are saving lives, that our search-and-rescue teams are going to be in place, that people are going to get food, the water, the shelter that they need in case of emergency, and that we respond as quickly as possible to get the economy back on track," Obama said.

Mitt Romney, his Republican challenger in the November 6 presidential elections, also cancelled his campaign.

Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano asked the governors of North Carolina, Pennsylvania and West Virginia and the mayor Atlantic City to make necessary arrangements to tackle the situation.

"At the direction of the President, we continue to closely monitor Hurricane Sandy and work with our federal, state, local and tribal partners to coordinate resources to provide support as needed," she said.

The mass transit systems in New York, Washington DC and Philadelphia, which carry estimated 11 million people every day, have been cancelled.

Schools in these States have been closed, affecting more than 4.7 million students: about the population of Norway.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency has made available more than 5 million litres of water, 3 million meals, 900,000 blankets and 100,000 cots for distribution to the needy people.

The Pentagon said it has put more than 140 helicopters for possible search and rescue operations; while there are 6,700 National Guard forces on state active duty.

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