Residents and businesses began a massive clean-up effort Tuesday, even as large parts of the region remained without power, and transportation in the New York metropolitan area was at a standstill.
The storm that made landfall in New Jersey on Monday evening with hurricane force cut power to more than 8.2 million across the East and put the presidential campaign on hold just one week before Election Day.
New York was among the hardest hit, with its financial heart closed for a second day. The storm caused the worst damage in the 108-year history of the city’s subway system, and there was no indication of when the largest U.S. transit system would be rolling again.
But the full extent of the damage in New Jersey was being revealed as morning arrived. Emergency crews fanned out to rescue hundreds.
A hoarse-voiced New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie gave bleak news at a morning news conference: Seaside rail lines washed away. No safe place on the state’s barrier islands for him to land. Parts of the coast still under water.
“It is beyond anything I thought I’d ever see,” he said. “It is a devastating sight right now.”
President Obama will travel to New Jersey on Wednesday to view damage caused by the massive storm, the White House said in a statement.
Obama canceled campaign appearances planned for Ohio on Wednesday because of the storm.
Millions of people from Maine to the Carolinas awoke Tuesday without electricity, and an eerily quiet New York City was all but closed off by car, train and air as superstorm Sandy steamed inland, still delivering punishing wind and rain.
Jersey City was closed to cars because traffic lights were out, and Hoboken, just over the Hudson River from Manhattan, was hit with major flooding.
A huge swell of water swept over the small New Jersey town of Moonachie, near the Hackensack River, and authorities struggled to rescue about 800 people, some living in a trailer park. And in neighboring Little Ferry, water suddenly started gushing out of storm drains overnight, submerging a road under 4 feet of water and swamping houses.
Police and fire officials used boats and trucks to reach the stranded.
“I looked out and the next thing you know, the water just came up through the grates. It came up so quickly you couldn’t do anything about it. If you wanted to move your car to higher ground you didn’t have enough time,” said Little Ferry resident Leo Quigley, who with his wife was taken to higher ground by boat.
The death toll from Sandy in the U.S. included several killed by falling trees. Sandy also killed 69 people in the Caribbean before making its way up the Eastern Seaboard.
Airlines canceled more than 12,000 flights. New York City’s three major airports remained closed.
“This was a devastating storm, maybe the worst that we have ever experienced,” New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg said.
Trading at the New York Stock Exchange was canceled again Tuesday after the storm sent a nearly 14-foot surge of seawater, a record, coursing over its seawalls and highways and into low-lying streets. The water inundated tunnels, subway stations and the electrical system that powers Wall Street and sent hospital patients and tourists scrambling for safety. Skyscrapers swayed and creaked in winds that partially toppled a crane 74 stories above Midtown. A large tanker ship ran aground on the city’s Staten Island.
“This will be one for the record books,” said John Miksad, senior vice president for electric operations at Consolidated Edison, which had more than 670,000 customers without power in and around New York City.
In New Jersey, where the superstorm came ashore, a huge swell of water swept over the small town of Moonachie, and authorities struggled to rescue about 800 people, some of them living in a trailer park. Police and fire officials used boats to try to reach the stranded.
“I saw trees not just knocked down but ripped right out of the ground. I watched a tree crush a guy’s house like a wet sponge,” mobile home park resident Juan Allen said.
The massive storm reached well into the Midwest with heavy rain and snow. Chicago officials warned residents to stay away from the Lake Michigan shore as the city prepared for winds of up to 60 mph (96 kph) and waves exceeding 24 feet (7.2 meters) well into Wednesday.
Curiosity turned to concern overnight as New York City residents watched whole neighborhoods disappear into darkness as power was cut. The World Trade Center site was a glowing ghost near the tip of Lower Manhattan. Residents reported seeing no lights but the strobes of emergency vehicles and the glimpses of flashlights in nearby apartments. Lobbies were flooded, cars floated and people started to worry about food.
As Hurricane Sandy closed in on the Northeast, it converged with a cold-weather system that turned it into a monstrous hybrid of rain and high winds — even bringing snow in West Virginia and other mountainous areas inland.
Just before it made landfall, forecasters stripped Sandy of hurricane status, but the distinction was purely technical, based on its shape and internal temperature. It still packed hurricane-force winds.
While the hurricane’s 90 mph (144 kph) winds registered as only a Category 1 on a scale of five, it packed “astoundingly low” barometric pressure, giving it terrific energy to push water inland, said Kerry Emanuel, a professor of meteorology at MIT.
“We are looking at the highest storm surges ever recorded” in the Northeast, said Jeff Masters, meteorology director for Weather Underground, a private forecasting service.
Tunnels and bridges to Manhattan were shut down, and some flooded. [nggallery id=5]
“We have no idea how long it’s going to take” to restore the transit system, MTA spokeswoman Marjorie Anders said Tuesday.
New York University’s Tisch Hospital was forced to evacuate 200 patients after its backup generator failed. NYU Medical Dean Robert Grossman said patients — among them 20 babies from the neonatal intensive care unit who were on battery-powered respirators — had to be carried down staircases and to dozens of ambulances waiting to take them to other hospitals.
A construction crane atop a $1.5 billion luxury high-rise overlooking Central Park collapsed in high winds and dangled precariously. Thousands of people were ordered to leave several nearby buildings as a precaution.
Reggie Thomas emerged Tuesday morning from his job as a maintenance supervisor at a prison near the overflowing Hudson River, a toothbrush in his front pocket, to find his 2011 Honda with its windows down and a foot (304 millimeters) of water inside.
“It’s totaled,” Thomas said, with a shrug. “You would have needed a boat last night.”
In the storm’s wake, President Obama issued federal emergency decrees for New York and New Jersey, declaring that “major disasters” existed in both states. One disaster-forecasting company predicted economic losses could ultimately reach $20 billion, only half insured. Add an additional $10 billion to $30 billion more in lost business, according to IHS Global Insight, a forecasting firm.
In the long run, the devastation the storm inflicted on New York City and other parts of the Northeast will barely nick the U.S. economy. That’s the view of economists who say higher gas prices and a slightly slower economy in coming weeks will likely be matched by reconstruction and repairs that will contribute to growth over time.
The short-term blow to the economy, though, could subtract about 0.6 percentage point from U.S. economic growth in the October-December quarter, IHS says. Retailers, airlines and home construction firms will likely lose some business.
The New York City Marathon is scheduled for Saturday. But there are many questions about whether transportation not just to and from the city, but also in and around the city, will be ready in time. The marathon pours an estimated $350 million into the city each year. But it also requires major support from city departments that are being strained by the storm.
New York Road Runners President Mary Wittenberg said Monday they had a long list of contingency plans already in place to deal with any obstacles that might arise. The biggest concerns centered on getting runners to the start on Staten Island.
The 26.2-mile route through the five boroughs mostly avoids areas considered at highest risk for flooding.
SCENES OF DESTRUCTION
All along the East Coast, residents and business owners awoke to scenes of destruction.
“There are boats in the street five blocks from the ocean,” said evacuee Peter Sandomeno, one of the owners of the Broadway Court Motel in Point Pleasant Beach, New Jersey. “That’s the worst storm I’ve ever seen, and I’ve been there for 11 years.”
Sandy, which was especially imposing because of its wide-ranging winds, brought a record storm surge of almost 14 feet to downtown Manhattan, well above the previous record of 10 feet during Hurricane Donna in 1960, the National Weather Service said.
Water poured into the subway tunnels that course under the city, the country’s financial capital, and Bloomberg said the subway system would likely be closed for four or five days.
“Hitting at high tide, the strongest surge and the strongest winds all hit at the worst possible time,” said Jeffrey Tongue, a meteorologist for the weather service in Brookhaven, New York.
Hurricane-force winds as high as 90 miles per hour (145 km per hour) were recorded, he said. “Hopefully it’s a once-in-a-lifetime storm,” Tongue said.
As residents and business owners began a massive clean-up effort and faced a long and costly recovery, large parts of the region remained without power, and transportation in the New York metropolitan area was at a standstill.
The U.S. Department of Energy said more than 8 million homes and businesses in several states were without electricity due to the storm, which crashed ashore late on Monday near the gambling resort of Atlantic City, New Jersey.
MORE THAN 50 HOMES BURN
The unprecedented flooding hampered efforts to fight a massive fire that destroyed more than 50 homes in Breezy Point, a private beach community on the Rockaway barrier island in the New York City borough of Queens.
New York University’s Tisch hospital was forced to evacuate more than 200 patients, among them babies on respirators in the neonatal intensive care unit, when the backup generator failed. Four of the newborns had to be carried down nine flights of stairs while nurses manually squeezed bags to deliver air to the babies’ lungs, CNN reported.
The death toll continued to climb.
“Sadly the storm claimed lives throughout the region, including at least 10 in our city … and we expect that number to go up,” Bloomberg said.
Other storm-related deaths were reported elsewhere in New York state in addition to Massachusetts, Maryland, Connecticut, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and West Virginia. Toronto police also recorded one death – a woman hit by flying debris.
Sandy killed 66 people in the Caribbean last week before pounding U.S. coastal areas.
Federal government offices in Washington, which was spared the full force of the storm, were closed for a second day on Tuesday, and schools were shut up and down the East Coast.
The storm weakened as it plowed slowly west across southern Pennsylvania, its remnants situated between Pittsburgh and Philadelphia, with maximum winds down to 45 mph, the National Hurricane Center said.
As Sandy converged with a cold weather system, blizzard warnings were in effect for West Virginia, western Maryland, eastern Tennessee, eastern Kentucky and western North Carolina.
Wind gusts, rain and flooding were likely to extend well into Tuesday, but without the storm’s earlier devastating power, said AccuWeather meteorologist Jim Dickey.
At its peak, the storm’s wind field stretched from North Carolina north to the Canadian border and from West Virginia to a point in the Atlantic Ocean halfway to Bermuda, easily one of the largest ever seen, the hurricane center said.
Obama and Republican presidential rival Mitt Romney put campaigning on hold for a second day instead of launching their final push for votes ahead of the November 6 election.
Obama, who has made every effort to show himself staying on top of the storm situation, faces political danger if the federal government fails to respond well in the storm’s aftermath, as was the case with predecessor George W. Bush’s botched handling of Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
But Obama also has a chance to look presidential in a national crisis.
With politics cast aside for the moment, Republican Christie heaped praise on the Democratic incumbent for the government’s initial storm response.
“The federal government response has been great,” Christie, a staunch Romney supporter, told NBC’s “Today” show. “I was on the phone at midnight again last night with the president personally … and the president has been outstanding in this.”
In New York, a crane partially collapsed and dangled precariously from a 90-story luxury apartment building under construction in Midtown Manhattan.
Much of the city was deserted, as its subways, buses, commuter trains, bridges and airports were closed. Power outages darkened most of downtown Manhattan as well as Westchester County, affecting more than 650,000 customers, power company Consolidated Edison said.
Neighborhoods along the East and Hudson rivers in Manhattan were underwater, as were low-lying streets in Battery Park near Ground Zero, where the World Trade Center once stood.
U.S. stock markets were closed on Tuesday but would likely reopen on Wednesday. They closed on Monday for the first time since the attacks of September 11, 2001.
Most areas in downtown Manhattan were without power on Monday morning. As the sun rose, most of the water in Manhattan’s low-lying Battery Park City appeared to have receded.
A security guard at 7 World Trade Center, Gregory Baldwin, was catching some rest in his car after laboring overnight against floodwater that engulfed a nearby office building.
“The water went inside up to here,” he said, pointing to his chest. “The water came shooting down from Battery Park with the gusting wind.”
In Lower Manhattan, firefighters used inflatable orange boats to rescue utility workers stranded for three hours by rising floodwaters inside a power substation.
One of the Con Ed workers pulled from the floodwater, Angelo Amato, said he was part of a crew who had offered to work through the storm.
“This is what happens when you volunteer,” he said.