THE misery of superstorm Sandy’s devastation has grown as millions along the US East Coast face life without power or mass transit for days, and huge swathes of New York City remain eerily quiet. The US death toll climbed to 35, many of the victims killed by falling trees, and rescue work continued.
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 US 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 Governor 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.”
The death toll from Sandy in the US included several killed by falling trees. Sandy also killed 69 people in the Caribbean before making its way up the Eastern Seaboard.
Airlines cancelled more than 12,000 flights. New York City’s three major airports remained closed.
President Barack Obama declared a major disaster in New York and Long Island, making federal funding available to residents of the area. He suspended campaigning for a third day Wednesday.
“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 cancelled again on Tuesday after the storm sent a nearly 4.27-metre 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.
A fire raged in a city neighbourhood on Tuesday morning near the Atlantic Ocean, with 80 to 100 homes destroyed but no deaths reported.
“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 caravan 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 96 km/h and waves exceeding 7.2 metres well into Wednesday.
Curiosity turned to concern overnight as New York City residents watched whole neighbourhoods disappear into darkness as power was cut. The World Trade Centre 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 144 km/h 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.
“We have no idea how long it’s going to take” to restore the transit system, MTA spokeswoman Marjorie Anders said on 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.