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Super storm Sandy forces Kenyan embassy closure

NAIROBI, Kenya, Oct 30 – The Kenyan embassy in Washington and the Kenya Mission to the United Nations in New York were closed on Tuesday following the super storm Sandy disaster which continues to wreck havoc in most US states.

A statement from the Foreign Affairs Ministry in Nairobi said embassy officials were monitoring the situation before the embassies are re-opened as early as Wednesday.

The Ministry said it had contacted Ambassador Elkanah Odembo in Washington and Ambassador Macharia Kamau in New York who have assured that all Kenyans in the US are safe.

“The Kenya Missions had closed for the day (Tuesday) and information reaching us indicates that the missions could open as soon as tomorrow after monitoring the situation today. Storm Sandy, categorised as the worst storm to hit the area in years hit the area last night,” the statement sent to newsrooms on Tuesday night said.

“The Ministry also wishes to assure Kenyans that most Kenyans living in the United States have contact with the missions and can access our Ambassadors there for any help,” it added.

The storm has also led to the cancellation of some 16,000 flights which were scheduled to land or take off from New York and Washington.

In New York alone, storm fire has devastated more than 100 homes, displacing many more people.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Kenya said it was also “monitoring the situation and receiving reports from the Missions in the aftermaths of Sandy, one of the biggest storms to ever hit the country.”

It said “the main concern is the safety and wellbeing of Kenyans in view of the current low temperatures following the massive power blackouts caused by power cuts to hundreds of thousands of people following the storm.”

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At least 30 people have been killed by the storm while millions remain displaced since the storm hit the US last week.

International News Agency AFP reports that firefighters were still dousing flames in the Breezy Point district of Queens, more than 12 hours after the fire started.

About 25 people were trapped in an upstairs apartment in one home, and the apartment roof was ablaze when the people were rescued, according to New York media reports.

Firefighters in boats on Tuesday rescued more than 25 people from 80 homes destroyed in a blaze in a New York neighborhood spread by superstorm Sandy, officials said Tuesday.

Firefighters were still dousing flames in the Breezy Point district of Queens on Tuesday more than 12 hours after the fire started. Floodwater was still sloshing amid the smoldering tangle of wood and metal.

“The terrible fire on Breezy Point is now under control but we believe we lost more than 80 houses,” New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg told a news conference.

Bloomberg said Sandy’s fierce winds spread the flames like a forest fire. “Winds were just devastating, blowing from one building to the next one and those buildings were close together.”

Firefighters said three suffered minor injuries.

Floodwaters were chest high on the street and firefighters used boats to make rescues, a fire department spokesman said.

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Breezy Point is near Rockaway Beach, where firefighters rescued many people from flood-stricken homes during the mega-storm.

Bloomberg said there were 23 serious fires across New York City during the storm.

By Tuesday evening, the death toll from the superstorm Sandy had risen to 30 in the mainland United States and Canada, and was expected to climb further as several people were still missing, officials said.

Officials in the states of Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Maryland, Pennsylvania, West Virginia and North Carolina all reported deaths from the massive storm system, while Toronto police said a Canadian woman was killed by flying debris.

Sandy had already killed at least 67 people — including a US national in Puerto Rico — as it swept through the Caribbean over the past few days, meaning the overall toll from the storm is now approaching 100.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo reported 15 storm-related deaths at a news briefing, including at least 10 killed when Sandy struck New York City.

“Tragically we expect that number to go up,” New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg warned.

Three people died in New Jersey, including two parents who were killed when a falling tree crushed their car, sparing their children aged 11 and 14 who were inside with them, Governor Chris Christie said.

Christie added that rescue operations were still under way, with three separate teams deployed in Atlantic City, the coastal casino town near where the storm made landfall at 0000 GMT Tuesday.

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Another four people were killed in Pennsylvania, including one killed from a falling tree and another when a house collapsed, emergency management officials told AFP.

Connecticut Governor Dan Malloy on Tuesday said two people had been killed in his state, including a firefighter, and two others were missing.

Elsewhere along the East Coast, a woman on board a replica of the HMS Bounty was recovered from the sea and later died at hospital. The captain was still missing Tuesday after the tall ship went down off the Carolinas.

A vehicle driver and his passenger were killed in the Virginia state capital of Richmond in the pre-dawn hours of Tuesday, city police said in a statement. The driver lost control of his car in heavy rain and slammed into a light pole, then struck a tree, city police said.

A woman in Maryland died after her vehicle hydroplaned into a tree, officials said.

And in West Virginia, a 48-year-old woman was killed when her car collided with a cement truck while driving through heavy snow caused by the storm, a local official said.

The National Hurricane Center said Sandy had weakened early Tuesday as it moved inland, but could still generate gale-force winds and flooding along the eastern seaboard.

US authorities had warned the threat to life and property was “unprecedented” and ordered hundreds of thousands of residents from New England to North Carolina to evacuate their homes and seek shelter.

Falling trees dragged down power cables, plunging millions of homes into darkness, while storm warnings cut rail links and marooned tens of thousands of travelers at airports across the region.

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Disaster estimating firm Eqecat forecast that the massive storm would affect more than 60 million Americans, a fifth of the population, and cause up to $20 billion (15 billion euros) in damage.

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