Hurricane Sandy, one of the largest and fiercest storms to menace the East Coast in years, lost some power but still packed a devastating wallop that slammed into New Jersey on Monday evening with torrential rains, howling winds and widespread flooding.
The National Weather Service was projecting diminished rainfall in many areas Tuesday, but the damage had already been done. The powerful storm transformed some of Atlantic City’s streets into rivers and inundated parts of Lower Manhattan, water forming whitewater cascades in Ground Zero and swamping New York’s financial district. Part of Manhattan’s storied skyline went dark as power failed for more than 250,000 customers south of Midtown, some of an estimated 7.5 million people on the eastern seaboard who lost power.
Sandy — which was reclassified as a nontropical storm because of its unusual dynamics — came ashore at 8 p.m. in Atlantic City, carrying sustained hurricane-force winds of 80 mph or more and dangerous flood tides as high as 13 feet , the National Hurricane Center said.
At least 16 people in seven states died as a result of the storm, the Associated Press reported.President Obama declared a major disaster in New York and New Jersey.
By about 4:30 a.m. Tuesday, Sandy was classified a post-tropical cyclone. Meteorologists said Sandy lost some characteristics of a tropical storm because of its collision with arctic air. But that collision also created an unsually large and dangerous storm system spanning nearly 1,000 miles. Fierce snowstorms dumped as much as 2 feet of snow across mountainous areas in southern Virginia, West Virginia and western Maryland, forcing officials to close Interstate 68.
The storm also had an impact on politics, as candidates called off campaign events and election officials shut down early voting in some areas.
Even on its approach, the effects of the superstorm were felt as flooding rains, gale-force winds and heavy seas swamped islands, ravaged coastal towns, shut down major transportation arteries, closed government offices at all levels, and forced hundreds of thousands to evacuate low-lying areas. The tall ship HMS Bounty sank off the North Carolina coast; 14 crew members were rescued by the Coast Guard, but one crew member drowned and the captain of the ship was missing.
In Washington, the region’s entire public transit system — Metro, Virginia Railway Express and the Maryland Transportation System — came to a halt on Monday, and most federal employees were told to stay home.
Federal officials announced that government offices would remain closed Tuesday for most employees, while Metro officials shut down rail, bus and MetroAccess service at least through Tuesday morning.
Amtrak canceled Northeast service, while stranded airplane passengers dozed or played cards in quiet terminals after dozens of flights were scratched at Reagan National Airport and Dulles International Airport.
In Maryland, high winds forced the closure of the Bay Bridge around 3 p.m. Monday. The Millard E. Tydings Memorial Bridge — which carries Interstate 95, the East Coast’s major artery, over the Susquehanna River — remained open but was operating under speed restrictions because of high winds. The speed on interstates and other highways was also reduced to 45 mph.
Schools, colleges and universities shut their doors in anticipation of power outages and dangerous road conditions, and some announced they would be closed Tuesday and Wednesday as well. D.C. taxi cabs announced a $15 per ride emergency surcharge.
U.S. stock markets did not open Monday — their first weather-related closure in nearly three decades — and were to remain closed Tuesday as well.
President Obama signed federal emergency declarations for eight states and the District of Columbia, permitting state officials to begin making requests for federal assistance, including manpower and equipment. The president also canceled campaign plans for Monday and Tuesday so he could remain at the White House and oversee the federal response to the storm..
GOP challenger Mitt Romney also shelved most of his campaign plans. Former Virginia governors George F. Allen and Timothy M. Kaine, who are locked in a tough fight for the U.S. Senate, temporarily suspended their public events because of the weather, too. Both candidates also warned residents to take down their yard signs lest they go airborne.
“We are certain that this is going to be a slow-moving process through a wide swath of the country, and millions of people are going to be affected,” Obama told reporters at the White House. He said the Federal Emergency Management Agency has pre-positioned supplies and is working closely with state and local officials.