After days of dire warning, the densely populated Eastern Seaboard felt the first bite of a massive storm that snapped trees, ripped down power lines and flooded streets across the Washington region on Monday.
From North Carolina to New England, the coastal states were buttoned up as the big and uniquely formed storm system gained its first hold over land since killing almost 70 people in the Caribbean.
New York City was hit hard, with an unprecedented nine-foot storm surge conspiring with rivers already overflowing their banks. Streets flooded in Brooklyn and Lower Manhattan, runways at LaGuardia International Airport were underwater and a big construction crane snapped atop a skyscraper being built in Midtown. Four feet of water had flooded some city subways, raising fears they would cripple the system for days.
Late Monday, Mayor Michael Bloomberg said backup power had been lost at New York University hospital and the city was working to move people out, the Associated Press reported. The storm had killed at least one city resident, a man who died when a tree fell on his home in the Flushing section of Queens, according to the wire service.
With the storm expected to linger longer than most, virtually everything in and around Washington was to shut down for a second day on Tuesday. The federal workforce and public employees in the District, Maryland and Virginia were told to stay home again. Schools in the District and adjoining states closed. Metro and other transit agencies planned to remain out of service at least Tuesday morning.
No flights were expected Tuesday at the region’s three airports. Amtrak service north of the District was not expected to resume at least until Wednesday. Tens of thousands of homes lost power.
Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) said his state was “in the crosshairs” of a storm that “is going to . . . sit on Maryland and bear down on Maryland for a good 24 to 36 hours.”
The days of preparation afforded by the storm’s slow march toward the coast could not save the region from the myriad damage that proves that much of what man makes is no match for hurricane winds and floodwaters.
“This is one of, if not the, strongest storms on record in the Mid-Atlantic or Northeast,” said Jason Samenow of The Washington Post’s Capital Weather Gang. “In terms of a prolonged wind and rain event, this will be as strong as anything we’ve seen in several decades.”
The central core of Hurricane Sandy turned from the Atlantic into the shoreline near Atlantic City after nightfall Monday, but for all its almost 1,000-mile wingspan, Sandy was just the central element of a massive confluence of weather. Its tropical weather was expected to collide with the jet stream to the west and then be pinned from escape by a powerful nor’easter that will hold it in place over a multistate region where almost 60 million people live.
The bizarre combination of a late-season hurricane and a nor’easter, a storm type with some hurricane-like characteristics more common between October and April, was captured by Virginia Gov. Robert F. McDonnell (R).
“You’ve got flooding in southeast Virginia,” McDonnell said. “You’ve got a blizzard in western and southwest Virginia. And you’ve got high winds and heavy rain in Northern Virginia.”
For the second time in four months, lights flickered out in homes across the Washington region. The three major utilities fought a losing battle through the night to keep the power on, with regional outages reaching almost 160,000 by 9 p.m.
“We lost power about 7:50 p.m.” on Monday, said Craig Barnabee of Shady Side. “We last lost it during those straight-line winds in late June, and it was out for two days.”
Barnabee said he would start his generator Tuesday morning, but many people were likely to awake in darkness, unsure when their power might be restored.
Although advance help had been enlisted from as far as Texas, the region’s utilities were reluctant to promise when lights would come back on. It was expected to remain windy here until Wednesday as the storm moved slowly on a swing through New England.
“You have to wait until the wind subsides, then you hit it again as quickly as possible,” said Bob Hainey, spokesman for Pepco, which serves the District and much of the immediate Maryland suburbs. “The big word now is safety, safety, safety.”
Pepco had to recall its crews briefly during the height of the Monday night winds because it’s unsafe to use bucket-truck extensions in winds above 35 mph.
The National Weather Service warned that the Potomac River on Wednesday and Thursday would probably experience its worst flooding since a rapid snow melt after the blizzard of 1996.
Authorities in Virginia said the entire 37-square-mile Chincoteague Island was underwater up to three feet deep. The 3,500 islanders who had opted to remain on Chincoteague were told to stay in place because the causeway to the mainland was closed.