Millions of people along the U.S. East Coast remained without power Tuesday, as Superstorm Sandy brought powerful winds, rains, floods and snow to the mid-Atlantic states and Northeast.
The mega-storm's center plowed through Pennsylvania early Tuesday after carving a harrowing path of destruction overnight, killing at least 17 people in seven states and cutting power to more than 8 million homes.
New York City was among the hardest hit areas. Between 80 and 100 flooded homes in the borough of Queens caught fire and were destroyed; no deaths were reported. A hospital removed patients on stretchers and 20 babies from neonatal intensive care, some on respirators operating on battery power. The broken boom of a crane continued to dangle precariously in midtown.
The city's transit system suffered unprecedented damage; water flooded subways and tunnels. A spokeswoman said officials had "no idea how long" it will take to restore service.
In New Jersey, where the superstorm came ashore, hundreds of people were being evacuated in rising water early Tuesday. Officials were using boats to try to rescue about 800 people living in a trailer park in Moonachie. There were no reports of injuries or deaths. Local authorities initially reported a levee had broken, but Gov. Chris Christie said a berm overflowed.
Forecasters cautioned that gale-force winds would continue to pound parts of the Eastern Seaboard from Virginia to New England Tuesday, and warned of more storm surges at high tide even as water levels along the coast subsided.
Sandy's center was expected to trek through western Pennsylvania before turning north into western New York by Tuesday night and into Canada on Wednesday.
The post-tropical cyclone still packed 65-mile-an-hour winds at 5 a.m., when it was located about 90 miles west of Philadelphia, Penn. The storm was moving toward the west-northwest at 15 miles an hour, according to the National Weather Service.
The national weather service said coastal storm surges from rising waters could reach four feet in Pamlico Sound, Albermarle Sound, Delaware Bay, Chesapeake Bay and the Delmarva Peninsula during the next high tide. Water from the Jersey shore to Massachusetts could reach as much as 3 feet above ground.
Forecasters have warned inland flooding from swollen rivers in several states, including Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Delaware, also poses a significant threat.
As of 2 a.m., more than 11 and 9 inches of rain had fallen in Wildwood Crest, N.J., and Milford, Delaware, respectively. More than 6 and 4 inches fell on Baltimore, Maryland and Washington D.C., respectively.
More than a foot of snow had been dumped on parts of West Virginia, including 14 inches in Bowden, after Sandy collided with a cold front. Isolated parts of North Carolina and Pennsylvania received more than half a foot of snow, and 5 inches fell in Tazewell, Virginia.
Wind gusts overnight reached 90 miles an hour in Islip, N.Y. and Tompkinsville, N.J. and gusts topped 75 miles an hour in Croton, Conn., and Cuttyhunk, MA.
President Barack Obama on Tuesday morning signed major disaster declarations for New Jersey and New York.
In New York, more than 250,000 Con Ed customers from 39th Street south were left without power. One of the city's major hospitals was forced to evacuate patients late Monday when its backup power system failed. New York City's three major airports remained closed.
A top Consolidated Edison ED -0.07% official said it could take up to a week to restore power to the bulk of Manhattan neighborhoods plunged into darkness as the utility weighs the scope of damage left by the explosion that rocked a substation.
Flights to and from the Northeastern U.S. will remain mostly grounded on Tuesday because of Superstorm Sandy, airlines said, with most carriers aiming to resume service on Wednesday. It could be days before some of the thousands of stranded travelers resume their journeys.
The storm had forced nearly 16,000 flight cancellations as of Tuesday morning, including more than 6,000 flights scheduled for Tuesday and 650 flights scheduled for Wednesday, according to flight-tracking service FlightAware.com. The three airports near New York City have been shut down.
Connecticut's governor, Dannel Malloy said thousands were stranded by rising water along the coastline of his state. He urged people in one-story homes to move to their roofs. "This is a Katrina-like warning we are issuing," he said.
The impact was mounting. As night fell Monday, a record breaking 13-foot surge of seawater hit New York City, flooding New York's Brooklyn-Battery tunnel, a major traffic artery, as well as portions of the city's subway system. Subway service could be crippled for "at least a week," the head of the municipal transportation authority said late Monday.
The Oyster Creek nuclear power plant in New Jersey declared an alert due to high water levels in its water intake structure, the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission said Monday evening. An alert is the second lowest of four levels the NRC uses to characterize events at power plants, and the NRC said conditions were still safe at and around the plant in Lacey Township, N.J., and at all other U.S. nuclear plants.
Economic damages from Sandy, which is expected to affect some 20% of the U.S. population, could be in the range of $10 billion to $20 billion, according to EQECAT, a catastrophe-risk modeling firm. That compares to Hurricane Irene, which caused $10 billion in damage last year. Insured losses from Hurricane Katrina in 2005 alone topped $45 billion, adjusted for inflation.
Over the course of Monday, as winds strengthened to 90 miles per hour, waves swept away a historic pier in Ocean City, Md., Monday and left Atlantic City, N.J., largely submerged—the sea rushing over its iconic boardwalk, surging through the streets, and leaving hundreds of people in need of rescue.
In New York City, the backup power at NYU Langone Medical Center on First Avenue in Manhattan failed, prompting an emergency evacuation of patients, Mayor Michael Bloomberg said Monday night.
"The one thing that we had not counted on, New York University's hospital backup power—in spite of them making sure, ensuring us that it's been tested—stopped working," the mayor said during a late Monday news conference at the city's Office of Emergency Management in Brooklyn. "And we're working with them to help move people out."
At least 4.7 million public school students—about the population of Norway—stayed home Monday or Tuesday as a result of Hurricane Sandy, according to a Wall Street Journal tally. That estimate doesn't include private-school students; there may be more school closings that weren't reported to state education departments.
Sandy was relabeled from a hurricane to a posttropical cyclone on Monday evening. Earlier, its classification as a Category 1 storm, the least powerful category of hurricane, was deceiving. Scientists say the storm has an unusually low atmospheric pressure near its center, an important measure of a storm's strength.
Coastal communities were already grappling with the storm's impact early Monday. The Coast Guard rescued 14 members of the crew of the HMS Bounty—a replica "tall ship" built as a movie prop in the 1960s and used more recently in "Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest." Two crew remembers were reported missing off the coast of North Carolina after the vessel sank in high seas. Late Monday, one of the two had been found.
President Barack Obama and the Republican challenger for the presidency, Mitt Romney, both canceled campaign events Monday and Tuesday. Mr. Obama returned to Washington from Florida to focus on a response to what he called a "difficult storm."
Federal emergency officials said they have plenty of money available—about $3.6 billion—to pay for disaster relief and response. That is a contrast to last year, when dwindling coffers at the Federal Emergency Management Agency led to a political fight after Hurricane Irene caused widespread, costly flooding in the Northeast.
During a news conference Monday evening, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie repeatedly attacked Atlantic City Mayor Lorenzo Langford for allowing people to stay in city shelters, including a school a block away from the boardwalk. "He was sending out a message that was counter to my message," Mr. Christie said. "I'm very disappointed."
Mr. Langford didn't respond to requests for comment. In a telephone interview on CNN Mr. Langford described Mr. Christie as ill-advised and misinformed.
Mr. Christie also expressed concern about people who refused to evacuate from seaside areas. "It's just stupid," he said in public remarks Monday.
On the barrier island of Brigantine, 50% of residents refused to evacuate, state officials said. Many in Cape May, a national historic landmark, also planned to stay put, despite flooding Monday.
Overall, an estimated 116,000 New Jersey residents were under mandatory evacuation orders. Flooding near Atlantic City had already extended to waterways inland about 18 miles.
In flooded Atlantic City late Monday, National Guard and other officials were trying to rescue nearly 500 people from their homes, said Tom Foley, the city's director of emergency management. The city relies heavily on tourism; it drew 34.4 million visitors who spent an estimated $7.5 billion in 2008, the most recent figures available, according to a Rutgers University study.
In Delaware, many residents of beach towns heeded mandatory evacuation orders and a driving ban, and hunkered down at shelters, hotels, and friends' houses. Melissa Yeager, 27 years old, evacuated her home on the second floor of a building in a low-lying area in Lewes, Del., to ride out the storm at a high school with her two daughters, Rosemary, 6, and Krissy, 3.
"I wanted to make sure my children were safe and I knew this was the safest place for them," Ms. Yeager said as she played board games with her daughter.
In Philadelphia, officials worried about flooding from the Schuylkill River, which runs through the heart of the city.
In New York City, roughly 2,500 people had booked into emergency storm shelters, less than 4% of the total capacity, nearly 24 hours after Mayor Michael Bloomberg ordered an evacuation of 375,000 people from the city's low-lying areas. Last year, when Mr. Bloomberg ordered the same evacuation of low-lying areas as Tropical Storm Irene barreled up the East Coast, roughly 60% complied, the mayor estimated.