Cyclone Sandy roars ashore bringing floods and power outages to region

Weather system carves a swath of terrible damage, plunges populous stretch of coastline into a major crisis

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PLEASANTVILLE, N.J. -- Cyclone Sandy roared ashore Monday night with 80-mph winds in southern New Jersey, poised to deliver a terrible blow to the most populous region of the United States, paralyze the nation's epicenters of power and commerce and plunge smaller coastal communities into crisis.

After days of dire warnings and bustling preparations, the storm crashed ashore a little after 8 p.m. EDT, leaving more than 3 million people without power. The Associated Press put the death toll at 11 in New Jersey, New York, Maryland, Pennsylvania and Connecticut. It said some victims were killed by falling trees.

Although its winds reached low hurricane strength, officials called Sandy a post-tropical cyclone. Cyclones, unlike hurricanes, are not defined by wind speed but how they find their energy, officials said.

Moving northwest at 23 mph, Sandy appeared to pass over land just south of Atlantic City, N.J. But the precise location of landfall didn't matter. Sandy is a freak event -- a late-season hurricane hemmed in by weather bands, gobbling up the energy of the Gulf Stream as it raked the coast while growing into a ragged, 1,000-mile-wide storm.

As it grew, so did its power to push a wall of seawater onto shore -- with such force that some rivers were expected to run backward.

The result was a plodding ogre of a storm, powerful more because of its scope than its sheer strength. The metropolitan areas of Philadelphia, Baltimore and New York City were most immediately in the cross-hairs, but Sandy cast tropical storm-strength winds from the Carolinas to Maine. Hurricane-force winds stretched from Virginia to Massachusetts.

Because of its size, Sandy is more than a coastal event. Officials predicted a blizzard in the West Virginia mountains, 33-foot waves in Lake Michigan and high winds in Indiana. There were formal government warnings of one variety or another in 23 states, and 60 million people -- nearly 1 in 5 Americans -- could feel the storm before the end of the week.

Government officials implored the public to take precautions and heed evacuation orders.

"Don't be stupid," New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie told his constituents.

"There will be people who will die," said Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley.

The normally by-the-books National Weather Service delivered this message to those who were resisting calls to evacuate: "Think about your loved ones. ... Think about the rescue/recovery teams who will rescue you if you are injured, or recover your remains if you do not survive."

Landfall came with darkness on the coast. The last flickers of daylight had revealed one ominous image after another: Firefighters in Long Island wading through 3 feet of water to get to a house fully engulfed in flames. Chunks of the fabled Atlantic City boardwalk, the oldest in America, floating past avenues whose names are on the Monopoly board -- Pacific, Ventnor, Atlantic.

White-capped waves barked at the marble-stepped foot of the Jefferson Memorial in Washington, D.C., and splashed over park benches at Stuyvesant Cove Park near New York City's East Village. A portion of Wall Street was under water, and fire stations in New York and New Jersey were being evacuated -- one, in Manhattan, by boat. The floor of the New York Stock Exchange, Times Square, the monuments on the National Mall in Washington -- all were deserted.

Those snapshots portended a week of misery in the Northeast, federal authorities warned. After landfall, the storm was expected to stall near Philadelphia, then curl slowly toward the north and then the east -- strafing Pennsylvania today, New York state Wednesday, New England and Canada on Friday and Saturday.

After a tidal surge as tall as 12 feet inundates coastal areas, freshwater flooding could plague other Northeast pockets for days. The tale of the next few days will likely be water, water everywhere -- from the sky as rain, hail and snow; from the ocean, surging in rivers and back bays with nowhere to go. Power outages could also linger for days. "This is a long-duration event," said Rick Knabb, director of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

The 3-million-plus homes and businesses without power included half a million in New Jersey. Consolidated Edison, the New York power utility, intentionally shut off power to more than 5,000 buildings in Lower Manhattan to protect equipment.

The federal government announced that its offices would be closed again Tuesday, and analysts warned that damage could top $10 billion.

In Midtown Manhattan, a crane attached to a luxury high-rise called One57 partially collapsed, and was dangling 1,000 feet above West 57th Street. One57 is scheduled to be New York City's tallest building with residences; its penthouse sold last spring for $90 million.

By Monday night, pieces of the crane began smashing some of the windows, sprinkling glass onto the street and forcing evacuation of a nearby hotel. "With the winds as they are, we cannot secure it," New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg said.

In North Carolina, a replica of an iconic British transport vessel, the HMS Bounty, built for the 1962 Marlon Brando film "Mutiny on the Bounty," sank in churning seas. One crew member was killed and 15 others were rescued by Coast Guard helicopters. The 63-year-old captain was still missing.

A 30-year-old man was killed in Queens, N.Y., when a tree fell on his house, according to media reports.

Hundreds of thousands of people had evacuated their homes -- and many had declined. In New York, a small but steady stream of gawkers could not resist watching the harbor rise around them. At the waterfront in Brooklyn's Red Hook neighborhood, Nicholas Martin sipped coffee and watched the water rippling in -- up the side of a brick warehouse, around a telephone pole.

"I don't think the flood is really going to get all the way to our apartment," Martin said hopefully, and a bit uncertainly. Down the street, three people could be seen throwing suitcases into the back of a pickup truck and driving off.

In Philadelphia, Cain Carducci, 23, was remarkably calm Monday, considering he lives on a pier over the rapidly rising Delaware River waters. He planned to ride out the storm in his condominium. "I am getting a little concerned now," Mr. Carducci said, as the water pitched and roared below. "But I'm staying."

Sandy also wreaked havoc with the nation's busiest airspace. Airlines canceled more than 8,900 flights Sunday and Monday, and another 4,800 more cancellations for today. Philadelphia International Airport, La Guardia Airport and Newark Liberty International Airport were hit particularly hard, and authorities warned that delays and cancellations could linger until early next week. Travel snarls were expected to ripple around the world, including Los Angeles and Chicago, where dozens of flights were canceled.

The storm derailed the presidential campaign just a week before the election, postponing early voting in some areas and causing President Barack Obama and Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney to cancel campaign events. The president backed out of a scheduled rally in Orlando, Fla., to return to the White House situation room. He could be seen wincing into the wind and rain as he stepped onto the Tarmac at Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland.

"This is going to be a big and powerful storm," Mr. Obama said. "Millions of people are going to be affected. . I am not worrying at this point about the impact on elections. Right now, our No. 1 priority is to make sure we are saving lives."

Mr. Obama has declared federal emergencies in several states, including Pennsylvania, making them eligible to receive assistance and funding to address local storm-related problems. "We can start releasing to them commodities, generators and financial reimbursement for the cost of the response or the damages that are incurred," the president said.

FEMA is one many federal agencies geared up for the storm, Mr. Obama said at a White House briefing Monday. The Coast Guard is ready, search and rescue teams are in place, and there is a supply of food and water for distribution to storm ravaged areas, he said.

But Mr. Obama emphasized that the public must do its part. "Please listen to what your state and local officials are saying. When they tell you to evacuate, you need to evacuate," he said. "Do not delay. Don't pause. Don't question the instructions that are being given because this is a serious storm and it could potentially have fatal consequences."

Politics will come soon enough. Top officials at the Department of Homeland Security are receiving an unusual volume of calls from members of Congress eager to get their constituents reimbursed for storm damage and rescue efforts, said an administration official not authorized to speak publicly. If the storm stays on its current track, it is projected to hit more than 168 congressional districts, the official said.

Sandy also sent hundreds of theatrical productions, film and television projects and cultural institutions into darkness. In New York, Broadway was closed Monday -- including scheduled performances of "Annie," Chicago" and "Evita" -- and most theaters will be closed today as well. Performances at the Metropolitan Opera, Carnegie Hall and the Public Theater were canceled.

Many of the country's noted museums also closed -- the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the Smithsonian in Washington, the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

Production on New York-based television shows and feature films was interrupted -- none more ironically than Russell Crowe's "Noah," a film about the biblical flood.

Several talk shows also canceled production, including "The Colbert Report," "The Daily Show with Jon Stewart" and "Jimmy Kimmel Live," which usually films in Los Angeles but had been scheduled to begin a week of heavily publicized shows from Brooklyn, Mr. Kimmel's home borough.

weather - nation - state

Post-Gazette Washington Bureau chief Tracie Mauriello contributed. First Published October 30, 2012 4:00 AM


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