President Obama has declared a ‘major disaster’ in New York and Long Island as swathes of the city woke up under water after a night of being battered by Superstorm Sandy.
This morning millions of people on the East Coast are facing flooded homes, fallen trees and widespread power outages caused by the giant storm, which swamped New York City’s subway system and submerged streets in Manhattan’s financial district.
It hit the mainland at 6.30pm local time yesterday having laid waste to large parts of the coast during the day.
The storm that made landfall in New Jersey yesterday evening with 80 mph sustained winds killed at least 17 people in seven states, cut power to more than 7.4 million homes and businesses from the Carolinas to Ohio, caused scares at two nuclear power plants and stopped the presidential campaign cold.
New York was among the hardest hit, with its financial heart in Lower Manhattan shuttered for a second day and seawater cascading into the still-gaping construction pit at the World Trade Center.
Among the dead in New York were two children killed instantly by a falling tree in Westchester County, a woman electrocuted to death by falling wires in Manhattan and a 29-year-old man killed in a car crash in Queens. A 30-year-old man was also killed when a tree fell on his house in Flushing, Queens.
The massive storm reached well into the Midwest: Chicago officials warned residents to stay away from the Lake Michigan shore as the city prepares for winds of up to 60 mph and waves exceeding 24 feet well into Wednesday.
‘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.
Skyscrapers swayed and creaked in winds that partially toppled a crane 74 stories above Midtown.
Right before dawn, a handful of taxis were out on the streets, though there was an abundance of emergency and police vehicles.
Remnants of the former Category 1 hurricane were forecast to head across Pennsylvania before taking another sharp turn into western New York by Wednesday morning.
Although weakening as it goes, the massive storm – which caused wind warnings from Florida to Canada – will continue to bring heavy rain and local flooding, said Daniel Brown, warning coordination meteorologist at the National Hurricane Center in Miami.
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 wind – and even snow in West Virginia and other mountainous areas inland.
Just before it made landfall at 8 p.m. near Atlantic City, N.J., forecasters stripped Sandy 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.
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.
Officials blamed at least 16 deaths on the converging storms – five in New York, three each in New Jersey and Pennsylvania, two in Connecticut, and one each in Maryland, North Carolina and West Virginia. Three of the victims were children, one just 8 years old.
Sandy, which killed 69 people in the Caribbean before making its way up the Eastern Seaboard, began to hook left at midday Monday toward the New Jersey coast. Even before it made landfall, crashing waves had claimed an old, 50-foot piece of Atlantic City’s world-famous Boardwalk.
‘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.
Sitting on the dangerous northeast wall of the storm, the New York metropolitan area got the worst of it.