Superstorm swamped cities and stranded people. Thirteen U.S. deaths reported.
NEW YORK - Superstorm Sandy slammed into the New Jersey coastline Monday night with 80 mph winds and hurled an unprecedented 13-foot surge of seawater at New York City, flooding its tunnels, subway stations and the electrical system that powers Wall Street. At least 13 U.S. deaths were blamed on the storm, which brought the presidential campaign to a halt a week before Election Day.
For New York City at least, Sandy was not the days-long onslaught many had feared, and the wind and rain that sent water sloshing into Manhattan from three sides began dying down within hours.
Still, the power was out for hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers and another 5.7 million people across the East. The full extent of the storm's damage across the region was unclear, and unlikely to be known until daybreak.
In addition, heavy rain and further flooding remain major threats over the next couple of days as the storm makes its way into Pennsylvania and up into New York State. Near midnight, the center of the storm was just outside Philadelphia, and its winds were down to 75 miles per hour, just barely hurricane strength.
"We knew that this was going to be a very dangerous storm, and the storm has met our expectations," said New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg. "This is a once-in-a-long-time storm."
Earlier in the days, he urged New Yorkers to stay put until the storm passed.
"You have to stay wherever you are. Let me repeat that. You have to stay wherever you are," he said.
Just before Sandy reached land, forecasters stripped it of hurricane status, but the distinction was purely technical, based on its shape and internal temperature. It still packed hurricane-force wind, and forecasters were careful to say it was still dangerous to the tens of millions in its path.
Thirteen deaths were reported in New Jersey, New York, West Virginia, Pennsylvania and Connecticut. Some of the victims were killed by falling trees. At least one death was blamed on the storm in Canada.
Authorities reported a record 13-foot surge at the Battery at the southern tip of Manhattan, from the storm and high tide combined.
In an attempt to lessen saltwater damage to the subway system and the electrical network beneath the city's financial district, New York City's main utility cut power to about 6,500 customers in lower Manhattan. But a far wider swath of the city was hit with blackouts caused by flooding and transformer explosions, Con Ed reported.
The city's transit agency said water surged into two major commuter tunnels, the Queens Midtown and the Brooklyn-Battery, and it cut power to some subway tunnels in lower Manhattan after water flowed into the stations and onto the tracks.
The subway system was shut down Sunday night, and the stock markets, which did not open Monday, will be closed Tuesday as well.
Hospital loses backup power
After a backup generator failed, New York University's Tisch Hospital began evacuating more than 200 patients to other facilities, including 20 babies from neonatal intensive care, some of them on respirators operating on battery power.
Without power, the hospital had no elevator service, meaning patients had to be carefully carried down staircases.
On coastal Long Island, floodwaters swamped cars, downed trees and neighborhoods as beachfronts and fishing villages bore the brunt of the storm. A police car was lost rescuing 14 people from the popular resort Fire Island.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo, holding a news conference on Long Island where the lights flickered and his mike went in and out, said most of the National Guard deployed to the New York City area would go to Long Island. "Long Island has become ... the primary area of our concentration," he said.
Earlier, some New Yorkers defiantly soldiered on, trying to salvage normal routines and refusing to leave, as the mayor ordered 375,000 in low-lying areas to do.
The surge hit New York City hours after a construction crane atop a high-rise collapsed and dangled precariously 74 floors above the street.
Storm damage was projected at $10 billion to $20 billion, meaning it could prove to be one of the costliest natural disasters in U.S. history.
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie said people were stranded in Atlantic City, which sits on a barrier island. He accused the mayor of allowing them to stay there. With the storm roaring through, Christie warned it was no longer safe for rescuers, and advised people who didn't evacuate the coast to "hunker down" until morning.
"I hope, I pray, that there won't be any loss of life because of it," he said.
While the storm's 90-mph winds registered as only a Category 1 on a scale of 5, it packed "astoundingly low" barometric pressure, giving it terrific energy to push water inland, said Kerry Emanuel, a professor of meteorology at MIT.
And the New York metropolitan area apparently got the worst of it, because it was on the dangerous northeastern wall of the storm.
"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. "The energy of the storm surge is off the charts, basically."
Hours before landfall, water sloshed over the seawall at Cape May, and it punched through dunes in other seaside communities.
In Maryland, at least 100 feet of a fishing pier at the beach resort of Ocean City was destroyed.
Sheila Gladden left her home in Philadelphia's flood-prone Eastwick neighborhood, which took on 5 1/2 feet of water during Hurricane Floyd in 1999, and headed for a hotel. "I'm not going through this again," she said.
Those who stayed behind had few ways to get out. Not only was the subway shut down, but the Holland Tunnel connecting New York to New Jersey was closed, as was a tunnel between Brooklyn and Manhattan, and the city planned to shut down the Brooklyn Bridge, the George Washington, the Verrazano-Narrows and several other spans.
If the storm reaches the higher estimate of $20 billion in damage, that would put it ahead of Hurricane Irene, which raked the Northeast in August 2011 and caused $16 billion in damage. Hurricane Katrina, which killed 1,200 people, cost $108 billion.