WASHINGTON – Superstorm Sandy hit the East Coast with full force Monday evening. At least 30 people have been killed and over 8 million people have been left without power across New York City, as large sections of Manhattan had been plunged into darkness by the storm.
By noon Tuesday, US President Barack Obama declared a "major disaster" in New York and Long Island. The declaration makes federal funding available to people in the area, which bore the brunt of the sea surge from the storm.
The storm flooded rail yards, subway tracks, tunnels and roads. Just before its center reached land, the storm was stripped 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 remained every bit as dangerous to the 50 million people in its path. By late night, the center of the storm was over southern New Jersey.
The National Hurricane Center announced at 8 pm (EST) that Sandy had come ashore near Atlantic City. It smacked the boarded-up big cities of the Northeast corridor, from Washington and Baltimore to Philadelphia, New York and Boston, with stinging rain and gusts of more than 85 mph. The sea surged a record of nearly 13 feet at the foot of Manhattan, flooding the financial district and subway tunnels.
The deaths were in New Jersey, New York, Maryland, Pennsylvania and Connecticut. Police in Toronto said a woman was killed by a falling sign as high winds closed in on Canada's largest city.
As it made its way toward land, it converged with a cold-weather system that turned into a fearsome superstorm, a monstrous hybrid consisting not only of rain and high wind but of snow. Forecasters warned of 20-foot waves bashing into the Chicago lakefront and up to 3 feet of snow in West Virginia.
Storm damage was projected at $10 billion to $20 billion, meaning it could prove to be one of the costliest natural disasters in US history.
The Brooklyn Bridge (Photo: AP)
President Barack Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney suspended their campaigning with just over a week to go before Election Day.
At the White House, Obama made a direct appeal to those in harm's way: "Please listen to what your state and local officials are saying. When they tell you to evacuate, you need to evacuate. Don't delay, don't pause, don't question the instructions that are being given, because this is a powerful storm."
New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg said late Monday that the worst of the rain had passed for the city, and that the high tide that sent water sloshing into Manhattan from three sides was receding.
Blackout in New York (Photo: AFP)
"Leave immediately. Conditions are deteriorating very rapidly, and the window for you getting out safely is closing," New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg told those in low-lying areas earlier in the day.
Still, authorities also feared the surge of seawater would damage the underground electrical and communications lines in lower Manhattan that are vital to the nation's financial center.
Water began pooling in rail yards and on highways near the Hudson River waterfront on Manhattan's far west side. On coastal Long Island, floodwaters swamped cars, downed trees and put neighborhoods under water 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.
The storm washed away a section of the Atlantic City Boardwalk in New Jersey. Water was splashing over the seawalls at the southern tip of Manhattan.
In downtown Manhattan, rescue workers floated bright orange rafts on flooded streets, while police officers with loudspeakers told people to go home.
A construction crane atop a luxury high-rise in midtown Manhattan collapsed in high winds and dangled precariously. Residents in surrounding buildings were ordered to move to lower floors and the streets below were cleared, but there were no immediate reports of injuries.
The facade of a four-story Manhattan building in the Chelsea neighborhood crumbled and collapsed suddenly, leaving the lights, couches, cabinets and desks inside visible from the street. No one was hurt, although some of the falling debris hit a car.
Sandy's progress (Image: Reuters)
The major American stock exchanges closed for the day, the first unplanned shutdown since the Sept. 11 attacks in 2001. Wall Street expected to remain closed on Tuesday. The United Nations canceled all meetings at its New York headquarters.
Not only was the New York subway shut down, but the Holland Tunnel connecting New York to New Jersey was closed, as was a tunnel between Brooklyn and Manhattan. The Brooklyn Bridge, the George Washington Bridge, the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge and several other spans were closed because of high winds.
Authorities had warned that New York City and Long Island could get the worst of the storm surge: an 11-foot onslaught of seawater that could swamp lower Manhattan, flood the subways and damage the underground network of electrical and communications lines that are vital to the nation's financial capital.
Obama declared emergencies in Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island, New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania, authorizing federal relief work to begin well ahead of time. He promised the government would "respond big and respond fast" after the storm hits.