Rescuers in Philadelphia pulled a man from the wreckage of a collapsed building on Monday – and then promptly arrested him for looting.
The abandoned three-storey building in the north of the city had been reduced to rubble after Superstorm Sandy battered the east coast of the United States.
Firefighters working to make the building safe didn’t think anyone was inside, until they heard someone crawling out of the rubble.
After helping him to safety, police officers arrested him for disorderly conduct on the suspicion that he had crawled in to the building, located on Cumberland Street, looking for things to loot.
The exact cause of the building’s collapse is still unknown but Philadelphia has been buffeted by 50mph gusts as a result of the storm.
It came as thousands of National Guard troops were mobilised to prevent looting sprees on homes and shops in New York and Long Island.
Scores of trouble makers took to Twitter threatening to ransack stores and burgle abandoned homes as Sandy passed.
It prompted the New York National Guard to deploy 1,175 troops in New York City, Long Island and the Hudson Valley to maintain law and order.
The use of Twitter to organise looting has echoes of last year’s London riots and follows a phenomenon of ‘flash robberies’ in America in which organised mobs descend on stores or individuals to steal goods.
The plans are made on social networking sites such as Facebook or by e-mail.
One Twitter user called ‘GT: OpTic TUMES’ wrote on Monday: ‘Just started a looting clan. LL – Luscious Looters. Message @OpTicPauL. for tryouts must have mask. #HurricaneSandy.’
Another, Matt Worman, posted on Sunday: ‘Bout to do some looting when this hurricane finally hits…gonna get a new laptop and tv…this hurricane might be the best thing to happen.’
Lucas Emil wrote: ‘If this hurricane gets real bad I’m looting stores! I always wanted to do that…’
Looters often take advantage of hurricanes to loot – the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in 2005 became notorious for large scale lawlessness in New Orleans.
The practice became so commonplace that police officers were eventually told not to stop people ransacking stores.
Police were caught on camera looting a Wal-Mart store, later claiming ‘they had received permission from superiors to take necessities for themselves and other officers.’
Abandoned homes were also pillaged during Hurricane Irene last year.
The National Guard said they had been mobilised to ‘provide command and control and logistical support’, adding that one of the troops’ main duties would be to ‘protect against looting.’
The move came as President Obama declared a ‘major disaster’ in New York and Long Island after the Superstorm hit overnight, leaving the area looking like the set of a disaster movie.
Sandy hit the mainland at 6.30pm local time on Monday, having battered the eastern coast all day with 13ft waves, causing widespread flooding, damage to buildings and power cuts.