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Superstorm Sandy: Batters US east coast, at least 16 dead

At least 16 people are reported to have died after the superstorm Sandy hit the east coast of the United States overnight.

Sea water floods the Ground Zero construction site, Monday, Oct. 29, 2012, in New York.
Sea water floods the Ground Zero construction site, Monday, Oct. 29, 2012, in New York.
Image: John Minchillo/AP/Press Association Images

SUPERSTORM SANDY SLAMMED into the New Jersey coastline with 80 mph winds last night 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 16 US 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.

Damage

Still, the power was out for hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers and an estimated 6.2 million people altogether across the East. The full extent of the storm’s damage across the region was unclear, and unlikely to be known until daybreak.

Stock trading will be closed in the US for a second day today — the first time the New York Stock Exchange will be closed for two consecutive days due to weather since 1888, when a blizzard struck the city.

Heavy rain and further flooding remain major threats for the next couple of days as the storm makes its way into Pennsylvania and up into New York State. The center of the storm was just outside Philadelphia near midnight, and its winds were down to 75 mph, just barely hurricane strength.

A pedestrian runs through floodwaters in the Dumbo section of the Brooklyn borough of New York on Monday. (AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews)

As the storm closed in, it converged with a cold-weather system that turned it into a superstorm, a monstrous hybrid consisting not only of rain and high wind but snow in West Virginia and other mountainous areas inland.

It smacked the boarded-up big cities of the Northeast corridor — Washington, Baltimore, Philadelphia, New York and Boston — with stinging rain and gusts of more than 85 mph.

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.

Landfall

Sandy made landfall at 8 pm near Atlantic

City, which was already mostly under water and saw an old, 50-foot piece of its world-famous Boardwalk washed away earlier in the day. Authorities reported a record surge 13-feet high at the Battery at the southern tip of Manhattan, from the storm and high tide combined.

In an attempt to lessen damage from saltwater 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.

Lights out in New York City (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)

About 670,000 customers were without power late today in the city and suburban Westchester County. “This will be one for the record books,” said John Miksad, senior vice president for electric operations at ConEdison. “This will be the largest storm-related outage in our history.”

New York’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.

The subway system was shut down Sunday night. Schools were closed and Broadway theaters were dark.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg said:

We knew that this was going to be a very dangerous storm, and the storm has met our expectations. This is a once-in-a-long-time storm.

More than 200 patients — including 20 infants from neonatal intensive care — were moved from New York University’s Tisch Hospital after its power went out and a backup generator failed. The patients, some on respirators operating on battery power, were taken to other hospitals.

A construction crane atop a luxury high-rise collapsed in the high winds and dangled precariously 74 floors above the street. No one was hurt.

As the storm approached the Northeast over the weekend, airlines canceled more than 12,000 flights in the region. 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.

Sixteen deaths were reported in New Jersey, New York, Maryland, North Carolina, 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.

President Barack Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney canceled their campaign appearances at the very height of the race, with just over a week to go before Election Day. The president pledged the government’s help and made a direct plea from the White House to those in the storm’s path.

New Jersey

Sandy, which killed 69 people in the Caribbean before making its way up the Atlantic, began to hook left at midday toward the New Jersey coast.

New Jersey Governor 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 hurricane 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.

While the hurricane’s 90 mph 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.

And the New York metropolitan area apparently got the worst of it, because it was on the dangerous northeastern wall of the storm.

Vehicles are submerged on 14th Street near the Consolidated Edison power plant on Monday in New York. (AP Photo/ John Minchillo)

“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.

Power

At Cape May, water sloshed over the seawall, 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. At least half a million people along the East Coast had been ordered to evacuate, including 375,000 from low-lying parts of New York City.

Those who stayed behind had few ways to get out. 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.

LIVE: Watch the Weather Channel’s coverage of Hurricane Sandy

Read: 14 rescued, 2 still missing after Hurricane sinks ‘HMS Bounty’>

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