May 19, 2013
US East Coast reels from massive, deadly storm
Millions of people faced epic flooding and lengthy power outages on Tuesday after the massive storm Sandy wreaked havoc in much of the eastern United States with high winds and heavy rains.
The storm killed at least 45 people, including at least 18 in New York City, and insurance companies started to tally billions of dollars in losses.
The storm hit with just a week to go to the November 6 presidential election, disrupting campaigning and early voting and raising questions about whether polling stations in some hard-hit communities would be ready to open by next Tuesday.
Sandy, which crashed ashore with hurricane-force winds on Monday near the New Jersey gambling resort of Atlantic City, was the biggest storm to hit the country in generations.
It swamped parts of New York's subway system and lower Manhattan's Wall Street district, closing financial markets for a second day.
Businesses and homes along New Jersey's shore were wrecked and communities were submerged under floodwater across a large area. More than 8 million homes and businesses in several states were without electricity as trees toppled by Sandy's fierce winds took down power lines.
Across the region, crews began the monumental task of restoring power for anxious customers and getting transportation up and running could take time after the storm caused nearly 16,000 flight cancellations.
Cellphone service outages were widespread in many states and even some emergency call centers were affected.
The storm reached as far inland as Ohio and parts of West Virginia were buried under 3 feet (1 meter) of snow, a boon for ski resorts that was one of the storm's few bright spots.
Some cities like Washington, Philadelphia and Boston were spared the worst effects of the storm and were ready to return to normal by Wednesday. But New York City, large parts of New Jersey and some other areas will need at least several days to get back on their feet.
"The devastation is unthinkable," New Jersey Governor Chris Christie said after seeing pictures of his state's shore.
Seeking to show he was on top of the aftermath of the storm in the nation's most densely populated region, the White House said President Barack Obama planned to tour damaged areas of New Jersey on Wednesday accompanied by Christie.
The New Jersey governor, who has been a strong supporter of Republican presidential challenger Mitt Romney, praised Obama and the federal response to the storm.
"New Jersey, New York in particular have been pounded by this storm. Connecticut has taken a big hit," Obama said during a visit to Red Cross headquarters in Washington.
Obama issued federal emergency decrees for New York and New Jersey, declaring that "major disasters" existed in both states.
Power outages darkened large parts of Manhattan and a fire destroyed more than 80 homes in New York City's borough of Queens, where flooding hampered fire-fighting efforts.
"To describe it as looking like pictures we've seen of the end of World War Two is not overstating it. The area was completely leveled. Chimneys and foundations were all that was left of many of these homes," said New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg after touring the area.
Neighbourhoods along the East and Hudson rivers bordering Manhattan were underwater and expected to be without power for days, as were low-lying streets in Battery Park near Ground Zero, where the World Trade Center once stood.
"I'm lucky to have gas; I can make hot water. But there is no heating and I'm all cold inside," said Thea Lucas, 87, who lives alone in Manhattan's Lower East Side.
Further north, though, many retail stores, restaurants and bars reopened in neighbourhoods that did not lose power.
In Brooklyn's Prospect Park, runners, dog-walkers and children were out and about among fallen trees.
Organizers of Sunday's New York City Marathon were left scrambling. The world's largest 26.2-mile footrace typically has over 47,000 entrants from around the world, deploys thousands of volunteers, and winds through all five boroughs.
One disaster modeling company said Sandy may have caused up to $15 billion in insured losses. That would make it the third-costliest hurricane on record, behind hurricanes Katrina, which laid waste to New Orleans and the Gulf Coast in 2005, and Andrew, which devastated parts of Florida in 1992.
While damage was still being assessed, federal authorities made $13 million in "quick release" emergency relief funds available to New York and Rhode Island.