Hurricane Henri: New York and east coast brace for impact

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Clouds form over Manhattan ahead of Hurricane Henri arriving in New York City (REUTERS)
Clouds form over Manhattan ahead of Hurricane Henri arriving in New York City (REUTERS)

Hurricane Henri kept on course early Sunday to crash into a long stretch of northeastern US coastline, as millions on New York's Long Island and in southern New England braced for flooding, toppled trees and extended power outages.

The centre of the storm was projected to pass just off the eastern tip of Long Island by midday after the first thunderstorms brought half a foot of rain late on Saturday, and flash flooding began in some areas overnight.

Bands of heavy rain overwhelmed storm drains and drivers plowed through foot-deep water in a few spots in New York City, and Newark and Hoboken, New Jersey.

Tropical storm-intensity winds were expected to begin striking the coast about 8am.

People in the projected path spent Saturday scrambling to stock up on groceries and petrol. Those close to the coast boarded up windows and, in some cases, evacuated.

Approaching severe weather Saturday night also cut short a superstar-laden concert in Central Park. The show headlined by Bruce Springsteen, Paul Simon and Jennifer Hudson was meant to celebrate New York City's recovery from the coronavirus. But officials asked concertgoers to leave the park during Barry Manilow's set amid the threat of lightning.

Governor Andrew Cuomo, set to leave office Monday after resigning over a sexual harassment scandal, emerged Saturday to plead with New York residents to make last-minute preparations, warning that heavy rain, wind and storm surge from Henri could be as devastating as Superstorm Sandy back in 2012.

"We have short notice. We're talking about tomorrow," Cuomo said in one of his final forays before TV cameras, a setting that shot him to fame during the worst of the pandemic last year. "So if you have to move, if you have to stock up, if you have to get to higher ground, it has to be today. Please."

Major airports in the region remained open as the storm approached, though hundreds of Sunday's flights were cancelled. Service on some branches of New York City's commuter rail system was suspended through Sunday, as was Amtrak service between New York and Boston.

The White House said President Joe Biden discussed preparations with northeastern governors and that New York Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul, who succeeds Cuomo on Tuesday, also participated.

Biden later began approving emergency declarations with Rhode Island.

New York hasn't had a direct hit from a powerful cyclone since Superstorm Sandy wreaked havoc in 2012. Some of the most important repairs from that storm have been completed, but many projects designed to protect against future storms remain unfinished.

With maximum sustained winds at 75 mph (120 kph), just above hurricane strength, Henri was moving north at 18 mph (30 kph) as of Sunday morning. It was about 80 miles (125 kilometers) south-southeast of Montauk Point on the tip of Long Island.

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