Much of the East Coast is shut down today as residents brace for Hurricane Sandy, a massive storm that could be the largest to hit the United States in decades. Hundreds of thousands of people have already been evacuated, and millions could lose power over the next day. Meteorologists say Sandy is a rare hybrid "superstorm" created by an Arctic jet stream wrapping itself around a tropical storm. On Sunday, President Obama urged East Coast residents to take the storm "very seriously."
President Obama: "This is a serious and big storm. And my first message is to all people across the Eastern Seaboard, mid-Atlantic, going north, that you need to take this very seriously and follow the instructions of your state and local officials, because they are going to be providing you with the best advice in terms of how to deal with this storm over the coming days."
The storm has already killed 66 people in the Caribbean, where it battered Haiti and Cuba. In Haiti, a top U.N. relief official warned of a heightened risk of a new outbreak of waterborne disease.
Johan Peleman: "So, the entire southern peninsula, including the province, the county where Port-au-Prince is, had been — has been very heavily affected with flooding. Rivers have burst out of their banks, the canals running through Port-au-Prince, because Port-au-Prince lies in a valley surrounded by hills. What we fear most is that there might be spikes in waterborne diseases, especially cholera, which we always see after flooding or rains in Haiti."
New York City is among a number of U.S. cities to close schools and transit systems in preparation for the storm. The entire New York metropolitan subway system is being shut down for the second time in 14 months after no previous instances. The New York Stock Exchange is also closed in its first unscheduled shutdown since 2001. On Sunday, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg ordered the evacuation of tens of thousands in low-lying areas.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg: "In light of these conditions, I’m going to sign an executive order mandating evacuation of Zone A areas. I’m also ordering that all of the city’s public schools be closed on Monday. Now first as to the evacuation zone, let me stress that we are ordering this evacuation for the safety of the approximately 375,000 people who live in these areas. If you live in these areas, you should leave them this afternoon."
With just over a week before the election, both President Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney have scaled back campaigning as Hurricane Sandy approaches. The two campaigns have canceled a combined 17 events and suspended fundraising emails in states that lie in the storm’s path. On Saturday, President Obama rallied supporters in New Hampshire, where he criticized Romney’s record as governor of neighboring Massachusetts.
President Obama: "During Governor Romney’s campaign for governor down there, he promised the same thing he’s promising now, said he’d fight for jobs and middle-class families. But once he took office, he pushed through a tax cut that overwhelmingly benefited 278 of the wealthiest families in the state, and then he raised taxes and fees on middle-class families to the tune of $750 million. Does that sound familiar to you?"
Appearing meanwhile in Ohio, Romney rallied supporters by invoking the mantra of a fictional football team depicted in the television drama, "Friday Night Lights."
Mitt Romney: "There’s a fictional football team that used to be on TV, and as the team would go out of their locker room, often facing a daunting odds, they’d touch a sign that said, 'Clear eyes, full hearts, can't lose.’ You’ve seen it. And that’s how I feel about Ohio. You guys — you’ve got clear eyes and full hearts, and on November 6th, we can’t lose with your help. We’re taking back America."
At least four people were killed Sunday when U.S. drones struck northern Yemen. The victims were alleged militants in Saada province, though U.S. policy is to deem any adult-age male targeted by drones as a militant unless proven otherwise after they are killed. It was the fourth known U.S. drone strike inside Yemen this month.
Violence is continuing unabated in Syria despite an international ceasefire brokered late last week. On Sunday, Syrian activists said at least 16 people, including seven children, were killed when government warplanes bombed residential areas in the province of Idlib. Aerial attacks were also reportedly launched on eastern suburbs of the capital Damascus.
The top United Nations investigator on Palestinian human rights is calling for a boycott of all companies linked to settlements in the occupied West Bank. Richard Falk, the special rapporteur on human rights in the Palestinian territories, said firms including Hewlett-Packard, Motorola, Volvo and Caterpillar are complicit in the Israeli occupation.
Richard Falk: "This is an attempt to reach out beyond the intergovernmental and international institutional system. And one of the things that our report recommends is encouragement of the boycott of these named corporations and encouragement of civil society actors to join in that boycott."
The Obama administration has rejected Falk’s proposal, calling it "irresponsible and unacceptable."
Planned Parenthood has filed a new lawsuit challenging a funding ban in Texas that seeks to exclude it from a program for low-income women. The Texas program offers cancer and health screenings, as well as birth control services to some 130,000 women, about 40 percent of whom are served through Planned Parenthood. But Texas Gov. Rick Perry has sought to bar Planned Parenthood’s involvement because the group also provides abortions. An appeals court upheld the ban last week, but on Friday a Texas judge issued a temporary restraining order pending arguments in a new challenge from Planned Parenthood. Attorneys for Planned Parenthood say the ban is illegal because it would force Texas to lose of 90 percent of the program’s funding from the federal government.
A coalition of environmental groups has asked the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to subject oil and gas extracting companies to the same emissions oversight as other energy industry sectors. The Environmental Integrity Project, the lead organization behind the request, says companies, especially those that conduct natural gas fracking, should have to report their emissions to the Toxic Release Inventory, or TRI. In a statement, the group said: "Despite the many indications of the toxicity of the chemicals used in shale oil and gas removal, the extraction industry is one of the few within the energy sector that does not report to the TRI." The request comes on the heels of recent studies alleging increased health risks in communities exposed to fracking. A survey by Earthworks of residents in 14 Pennsylvania counties found that fracking has led to an 80 percent increase in sinus problems and 70 percent increase in throat irritation. A recent U.S. Geological Survey study in Wyoming found that fracking chemicals have again been found in the groundwater of the town of Pavilion, affirming the conclusion of an EPA study last year.
A leading Pakistani politician and campaigner against U.S. drone attacks was detained and questioned over his political views on Friday while trying to enter the United States. Imran Khan says he was taken off of a flight from Toronto to New York City and interrogated by U.S. agents about his public opposition to drones. Announcing the episode after his questioning, Khan tweeted: "My stance is known. Drone attacks must stop." Earlier this month, Khan led a march of thousands of people in Pakistan to rally against the drones.