Millions of people throughout the US Eastern Seaboard were without power or access to transportation on Tuesday after the biggest storm to hit the country in decades left at least 34 people dead, towns and roads underwater, trees toppled and power lines downed.
"The devastation on the Jersey Shore is some of the worst we've ever seen,” said a grim-looking and exhausted New Jersey Governor Chris Christie.
“The cost of the storm is incalculable at this point," he said.
Hurricane Sandy slammed into the New Jersey coast Monday night with sustained winds of 80 mph (129 kph) and heavy, relentless rains.
The devastation brought the busy, bustling Northeast to a virtual standstill, with schools, businesses, and airlines closed, mass transit systems shut down, more than 15,000 flights cancelled and many roads impassable.
At least 8 million electric customers were without power, including many hospitals and nursing homes.
“This was a devastating storm, maybe the worst we have ever experienced,” said New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg.
The storm claimed the lives of at least ten people in the New York area, he said, and “sadly… we expect that number to grow.”
The two biggest challenges the city faces, he said, were getting transportation systems up and running and restoring power.
A flood gauge in Battery Park, the southernmost tip of Manhattan, registered 13.88 feet (4.23 meters) Monday night, beating the modern record by more than 3 feet (0.9 meters), the National Weather Service said.
The storm surge topped the seawall in New York’s Financial District and flowed up Wall Street knocking out power, and flooding streets and buildings.
The New York Stock Exchange remained closed Tuesday for a second day, but will open again on Wednesday.
The high waters also flooded tunnels, underground subway stations, and an open construction pit at the World Trade Center site.
Officials estimate 4-5 days before subway service is fully operational, and at least 2-3 days before electric power is restored to parts of the city.
There was also extensive flooding in many New York City neighborhoods, submerging cars completely underwater.
"This will be one for the record books," said John Miksad with Consolidated Edison, which powers customers in and around New York City, in an Associated Press report.
A massive blaze overnight destroyed more than 80 homes in the New York City borough of Queens and looked “like a forest fire out in the Midwest,” said Bloomberg. The fire was contained but not out by midday Tuesday.
A crane that collapsed in high winds at a high-rise construction zone on Monday still dangled 74 floors over the streets of Manhattan, but would not be fully secured until the winds die down.
President Barack Obama declared a major disaster in New York City and New Jersey on Tuesday, which makes federal funding available to people affected by the storm.
The damage toll from the storm could come to $20 billion.
In New Jersey, search, rescue and recovery operations were underway by daybreak for people trapped by floodwaters in coastal communities.
“We want to make sure we are getting to New Jerseyans who chose not to leave evacuated areas or who got caught in unexpected floodwaters,” said Christie. He stressed that the top priority is rescuing people stranded on barrier islands.
He said state police and National Guard helicopters were engaged in rescue efforts all along the coast, and a swift water team trained to deal with rapidly moving water was beginning rescue and recovery for those who remained in Atlantic City.
Much of Atlantic City remained flooded Tuesday and several blocks of the historic boardwalk - the first in the nation - were destroyed.
The storm also caused major beach erosion along New Jersey’s coast, which is a major part of the state’s $35 billion tourism industry.
Christie also said commuter trains connecting northern New Jersey and New York City would be out of service for at least 7-10 days because of flooding at train stations. And he said rail lines throughout the state were damaged and washed out as well.
The storm also caused problems at five nuclear plants in its path, as the nation’s oldest nuclear plant declared an alert and a second plant 40 miles (64 km) from New York City was forced to shut down.
The effects from the massive storm were still being felt far and wide on Tuesday, as coastal flood warnings were in effect over much of the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast, and blizzard warnings were in place for higher elevations including the Appalachian Mountains.
The storm which is now designated as a post-tropical cyclone is predicted to reach Canada on Wednesday.
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