Morning Newsletter

Hurricane downgraded, but damage extensive

People in Lindenhurst, N.Y., on Long Island, waded and paddled down a flooded street as the storm approached Monday.
People in Lindenhurst, N.Y., on Long Island, waded and paddled down a flooded street as the storm approached Monday. ASSOCIATED PRESS

ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. — Superstorm Sandy slammed into the New Jersey coastline with 80 mph winds Monday night and hurled an unprecedented 13-foot surge of seawater at New York City, flooding its tunnels, subways stations and the electrical system that powers Wall Street. At least 10 U.S. deaths were blamed on the storm, which brought the presidential campaign to a halt a week before Election Day.

New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg said 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.

Still, the power was out for hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers and more than 3 million people altogether across the East, and the full extent of the storm's damage was unlikely to be known until daybreak.

In addition, heavy rain and further flooding remained major threats for the next couple of days as the slow-moving storm makes its way into Pennsylvania and up into New York State.

By late night, the center of the storm was over southern New Jersey. Just before it 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 remained every bit as dangerous to the tens of millions still in its path.

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

Sandy made landfall at 8 p.m. near Atlantic City, which already was mostly under water and saw a piece of its world-famous Boardwalk washed away earlier in the day.

"When I think about how much water is already in the streets, and how much more is going to come with high tide tonight, this is going to be devastating," said Bob McDevitt, president of the main Atlantic City casino workers union.

In New York, authorities reported a record surge 13 feet high at the Battery at the southern tip of Manhattan, from the storm and high tide combined.

"Now it's really turning into something," said Brian Damianakes, taking shelter in an ATM vestibule and watching a trash can blow down the street in Battery Park.

Bloomberg said Monday night that the surge was expected to recede by midnight, after exceeding an original expectation of 11 feet.

"The worst of the weather has come," he said. He said New Yorkers were inundating the 911 system and getting stranded in cars, and urged people 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.

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.

The city's transit agency said water surged into two major commuter tunnels, the Queens Midtown and 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.

The surge hit New York City hours after a construction crane atop a high-rise collapsed in the wind and dangled precariously 74 floors above the street. Forecasters said the wind at the top of the building might have been close to 95 mph.

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.

Ten 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.

President Barack Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney canceled their campaign appearances 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.

"When they tell you to evacuate, you need to evacuate," he said. "Don't delay, don't pause, don't question the instructions that are being given, because this is a powerful storm."

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 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 hurricane roaring through, Christie warned it was no longer safe for rescuers, and advised people who didn't evacuate the barrier islands 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 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.

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. Cars floated along the streets of Long Beach and flooding consumed several blocks south of the bay, residents said.

In Maryland, at least 100 feet of a fishing pier at the beach resort of Ocean City was destroyed, and Gov. Martin O'Malley said there would be devastating flooding from the swollen Chesapeake Bay.

"There will be people who die and are killed in this storm," he said.

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