Sandy wreaks havoc across Northeast

Obama expedites FEMA aid; losses could top $50 billion

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WASHINGTON -- Sandy -- the massive, multistate storm that flooded tunnels in New York City, brought snow to the mountains of West Virginia, snarled early voting for the upcoming election and caused more than 8 million power outages -- moved Tuesday into Pennsylvania and western New York and put the entire Northeast on heightened flooding alert.

The storm has had significant impact in at least 10 states and the District of Columbia, and its effects were felt as far west as Chicago, where local emergency officials warned people to stay away from the Lake Michigan lakefront, which was expecting waves of 20 feet or higher. The storm brought 26 inches of snow to Redhouse, Md., and storm surges 12.5 feet above normal in Kings Point, N.Y., according to AccuWeather.com.

Early estimates of its economic impact show Sandy could cause between $5 billion and $10 billion in insured damage, although that's only a fraction of the broader economic losses, which could range from $20 billion to $50 billion or even higher. The Associated Press said the storm was responsible for at least 40 U.S. deaths.

At one time Tuesday, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's warning map was coded in a dizzying array of colors: red for blizzards in West Virginia, purple for gale and storm warnings along the coast from Georgia to Maine, green for possible flooding in a dozen states as far west as Ohio, orange for high winds as far north as Michigan.

President Barack Obama issued major disaster declarations in some New York and New Jersey counties.

Such declarations -- used just once in this administration, when American Samoa was hit with a tsunami in 2009 -- open the door to additional federal aid.

"Generally, we do more thorough assessments, and oftentimes these take longer," FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate said in a conference call Tuesday. "But because of the extent of the damages, it was evident to the president after the conversations with the governors that he would do this as a verbal declaration."

FEMA had pre-deployed generators to support states where they need help getting key facilities, such as hospitals, back up and running.

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, an independent, warned in a news conference that recovery -- particularly restoring power and mass transit -- would require "a lot of patience." As of Tuesday morning, about three-quarters of a million New Yorkers were without power, he said. "Make no mistake about it: This was a devastating storm, maybe the worst that we have ever experienced," he said.

Just south in New Jersey, Republican Gov. Chris Christie and emergency workers assessed the impact of winds and storm surge along the coast, which took the brunt of the storm.

The state Tuesday morning reopened the New Jersey Turnpike after flooding closed southern portions Monday. But many roads were washed out or blocked. The governor told private employers that unless they could identify a safe way for employees to get to and from work, they should not reopen. "No county in the state has been spared," Mr. Christie said in a news conference.

More than 2.4 million New Jersey customers remained without power Tuesday, twice the number who lost electricity after Hurricane Irene last year.

In West Virginia, Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin said in a statement Tuesday that much of his state was experiencing severe weather, including high winds, flooding and blizzard-like conditions; power and water outages continued to plague many areas.

Volunteer fire and rescue organizations mobilized through the East Coast, reinforcing urban areas' professional staff, while departments set up special incident command systems to cope with widespread emergencies.

Emergency response teams and task forces converged on the East Coast from across the nation.

More than 1,500 FEMA workers are positioned along the East Coast to support response operations, including search and rescue, communications and logistical support. They include seven federal urban search-and-rescue task forces and 14 incident management assistance teams, which identify and coordinate federal help needed.

FEMA is coordinating with several government agencies and other organizations to handle Sandy's aftermath, including the American Red Cross, the Defense Department's U.S. Northern Command, the National Guard, Coast Guard, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and departments of Health and Human Services and Housing and Urban Development.

About 60 paramedics and EMTs from California's American Medical Response, for instance, were mobilized by FEMA as the Northern California Strike Team and transported Saturday to New York City. Task force members, half of whom work in the northern San Joaquin Valley, undertook missions including aiding evacuation of several hundred patients from a New York hospital.

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