Ben Southwood
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First two day close of New York exchange due to weather since 1888

Millions left without power as storm surge threatens Manhattan

Insurers estimate the total cost of the damage could reach $10bn

HURRICANE SANDY last night hit the US’s North East coast, closing stock exchanges, grounding aeroplanes, flooding low-lying areas, and potentially landing insurers with billion dollar liabilities.

The storm hit New Jersey at around midnight GMT and New York shortly after, buffeting the cities with winds of up to 100mph, and bringing trading, business, travel, power-generation, and even the election campaign to a grinding halt. A total of 10 US states declared a state of emergency.

Having been forced to close yesterday, the New York Stock Exchange said last night it would not re-open until at least Wednesday, the first time it has been forced to close for more than a day due to weather since 1888. The US bond markets also planned to stay closed until at least tomorrow.

Many firms were forced to postpone reporting third quarter results – pharmaceutical giant Pfizer said it would wait until Thursday instead of today, while Thomson Reuters postponed its earnings update until Friday.

Wall Street giants said they were prioritizing safety and keeping employees out of dangerous areas, with most working at home. Goldman Sachs said employees in other sites including London would pick up any slack, in a note circulated internally.

British Airways said it had cancelled flights to New York, Newark, Washington, Baltimore and Philadelphia, among other destinations, and a total of 13,785 flight cancellations were logged by The live flight tracking website said this number was expected to grow, as many airlines had not yet published their cancellations for today. New York bus and subway services came to a halt at 7pm on Sunday, as storms ahead of the hurricane started to worsen. The Metropolitan Transit Authority said it had evacuated “thouands of buses and subway cars”.

Power supplies across the Eastern seaboard were devastated and some two thirds of oil refining capacity has been put out of action. Con Edison, New York’s biggest electricity utility, reported outages in the hundreds of thousands. And both President Barack Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney put their election campaigns on the backburner as Sandy wreaked havoc in the North East. Obama cancelled a campaign event in Florida to fly to Washington, while Romney cancelled events scheduled for last night and this evening. Insurance firms could suffer $5bn (£3.1bn) to $10bn in losses, said disaster modeling firm Eqecat in an early forecast, well above the $4.3bn hit they took from hurrican Irene last year