Sandy kills at least 10, leaves 5.2 million without power

Superstorm Sandy slammed into the East Coast Monday, killing at least 10 people, hurling a record-breaking 13-foot(3.9 m) surge of seawater at New York City and knocking out power to an estimated 5.2 million people.

The massive storm was downgraded from a hurricane after it barged ashore in southern New Jersey, bringing more than 85-mph (136 km/h) winds and a roiling wall of seawater as it moved through New York City. It sent water surging into two major commuter tunnels and into subway stations and tracks. It was unclear how much water had come in.

The 10 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.

The power was out for hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers and an estimated 5.2 million people altogether across the East, with the full extent of the storm’s damage across the region unclear and unlikely to be known until daybreak.

The MTA cut power to some subway tunnels in lower Manhattan, after water came into the stations and tracks. The MTA couldn’t say at this point how much damage had been done, and how much time it would take to restore everything to normal.

Consolidated Edison was prompted to cut power to part of the area to avoid storm damage. A large portion of Manhattan’s FDR Drive was under water.

Reuters reported late Monday that there had been an explosion at a Consolidated Edison power station on the east side of Manhattan. Despite earlier reports, ConEd said on Twitter no one was trapped inside the plant.

New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg says backup power has been lost at New York University hospital and the city is working to move people out. The mayor delivered a news conference Monday night and said rain was tapering off in the city and the storm surge was expected to recede by midnight. The hospital complex is near the East River in an area of lower Manhattan where flooding has been reported.

The hurricane-turned-post-tropical cyclone, still a powerful, 900-mile-wide hybrid of several weather systems, sent 30-foot-high swells toward New Jersey, and as its eye passed over the shoreline, a surge as high as 10 feet tore into dunes and washed across boardwalks.

The state had evacuated all shore towns ahead of the strike, with Gov. Chris Christie telling residents who ignored the evacuation orders they were “both stupid and selfish.”

“[It’s a] very intense, very dangerous storm. People will die in this storm,” Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley said Monday. “So folks will need to mind their families, stay home and hunker down.”

Even homes on stilts were threatened by the massive surge, and water was cresting dunes and boardwalks from Delaware’s Rehoboth Beach to Jones Beach in New York.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo shut down all major New York bridges and schools, airports and the New York Stock Exchange were closed for Tuesday. North of Atlantic City, the storm was expected to be at maximum force from about 7 p.m. to 11 p.m., with gusts up to 90 mph, especially on ocean-facing beaches. For Long Island, Connecticut, and the rest of coastal New England, the high impact winds could last until midnight, according to The Wall Street Journal’s Weather Journal.

The National Guard was deployed along the densely-populated Atlantic Coast, and airports shut down Monday afternoon as the massive system churned in from the sea, creating 30-foot swells off the Jersey shore. The storm is on a collision course with a winter storm and a cold front, and high tides from a full moon make it a rare hybrid storm that could be felt all the way to the Great Lakes. Still, it could be worse – the storm could be well inland when evening high tide comes, some six hours after landfall.

Sandy has already been blamed for 69 deaths in the Caribbean before it began traveling northward, parallel to the Eastern Seaboard.

In Washington, President Obama urged the millions in Sandy’s path to heed warnings from local and state officials.

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

States of emergency were declared from North Carolina, where gusty winds whipped steady rain on Sunday, to Connecticut. Delaware ordered mandatory evacuations for coastal communities on Sunday, while Ocean City, Md., also was evacuated.

Tens of thousands of people were ordered to evacuate in anticipation of the storm, including 375,000 in lower Manhattan and other parts of New York City. At least 50,000 were ordered to evacuate in Delaware alone and 30,000 in Atlantic City, N.J., where the city’s 12 casinos were forced to shut down for only the fourth time in the 34-year history of legalized gambling there.

Airlines canceled more than 8,962 flights and Amtrak suspended passenger train service across the Northeast for Monday and Tuesday.

New York and Philadelphia shut down their subways, buses and commuter trains Sunday night and announced that schools would be closed on Monday. Boston, Washington and Baltimore also called off school. In Washington and New Jersey, Metrorail and PATH train services were canceled.

In Connecticut, the number of power outages began climbing as the storm moved through the state. In New York City, 250,000 homes were reported to be without power.

“We’re looking at impact of greater than 50 to 60 million people,” said Louis Uccellini, head of environmental prediction for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

An assistant manager at a Lowes store in Columbus, Ohio, told 10TV.com that people were calling in from West Virginia and Maryland to ask for supplies, and in northern Virginia, a cashier at Pitkins Ace Hardware in Dale City said batteries, flashlights and candles were flying off the shelves, PotomacLocal.com reports.

The storm even put Lady Liberty on hold.

The Statue of Liberty was scheduled to reopen Sunday to the public after a renovation project, but the monument will be closed Monday and Tuesday as Sandy passes through the area.

The danger of the storm is hardly limited to coastal areas. Forecasters were far more worried about inland flooding from storm surge than they were about winds. Rains could saturate the ground, causing trees to topple into power lines, utility officials said, warning residents to prepare for several days at home without power.

In North Carolina’s Outer Banks, there was some scattered, minor flooding Sunday on the beach road in Nags Head.

The Virginia National Guard was also authorized to call up to 500 troops to active duty for debris removal and road-clearing, while homeowners stacked sandbags at their front doors in coastal towns.

President Obama said the storm is “serious and big” and will be “slow moving,” while he was at the headquarters of the Federal Emergency Management Agency to get an update on plans for responding to Hurricane Sandy.

The White House said in a news release that the president on Sunday signed the state of emergency declaration, which had been requested by Mayor Vincent Gray. It says federal aid should supplement the city’s response efforts due to the emergency conditions.

The move follows the federal government’s decision to close offices on Monday. The district’s board of elections also announced it was suspending early voting on Monday. It has not been determined whether here will be early voting on Tuesday.

Obama nixed his participation in a campaign rally in Orlando on Monday and flew back to Washington to monitor the storm. The president has instructed his team to make sure that needed federal resources are in place to support state and local recovery efforts.

Mitt Romney canceled all his campaign events for Monday night and Tuesday due to the storm. The Supreme Court, meanwhile, announced in a rare move it would not convene on Tuesday. The court will hear Tuesday’s arguments on Thursday.

Fox News/The Associated Press