Sandy, the hybrid hurricane/nor'easter, began to lose steam Tuesday as it drifted across Pennsylvania and veered toward Canada. But the damage was done, and it will go down as a historic storm, not least because of what it did to New York, where a surge of seawater inundated some of the most valuable real estate in America.
Much of Manhattan, the seat of American finance, is in the dark. Someone standing after dusk Tuesday in the middle of the Brooklyn Bridge would see the lighted-up Chrysler Building and other Midtown skyscrapers to the north but darkened buildings to the south - almost all of Lower Manhattan vanishing into the night. Only City Hall was illuminated.
Power could be out for a week - a fact noted by some New Yorkers who packed their bags and headed for the exits.
The storm was blamed for 48 deaths up and down the East Coast, according to the Associated Press. The tempest played havoc with the power grid, knocking out electricity to 7.5 million people. More than 16,000 airline flights have been canceled so far. Eqecat, a firm that models the costs of catastrophes for insurance companies, estimated Sandy's economic impact on the country at $10 billion to $20 billion.
At the point of attack was New York City, a marvel of infrastructure and civil engineering that rediscovered this week that it is a coastal city, and that nature can be vicious. Sandy's high winds sparked fires that destroyed scores of houses. All the New York City airports remained closed Tuesday, along with the flooded subway. Wall Street never opened for business, the first two-day closure due to weather since the days of horses and buggies. The United Nations will be closed today for the third straight day.
"The damage we suffered across the city is clearly extensive, and it will not be repaired overnight," said New York Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg.
Bloomberg put the city death toll at 10. The toll could have been higher: Firefighters rescued 25 people from an upstairs apartment as they battled a huge blaze in the Breezy Point neighborhood of Queens. Another drama unfolded late Monday at New York University's Tisch Hospital, when a backup electrical system failed and nurses had to evacuate infants from neonatal intensive care, carrying them down darkened stairwells to get them to the safety of another hospital.
The Breezy Point fire immolated 80 homes, one of which belonged to a congressman, Robert L. Turner, R-N.Y.
In Brooklyn, Dave Shamoun, 58, the owner of Technico Marine, a marine industry supplier, surveyed the soggy wreckage in a 15,000-square-foot warehouse.
"This is New York's Katrina," Shamoun said.
The denizens of Lower Manhattan were astonished by the sight of submerged and floating cars in vintage residential neighborhoods and the financial district. In the East Village, more than a dozen people waited on line Tuesday at the Village Farms grocery store, where workers escorted each shopper for a flashlit tour of the aisles. Around the corner, 37 people waited in line at a coffee truck, some amusing themselves by guessing how long it would be before power returned to their apartments.
"Four days? Thanksgiving? " asked Zack Zavada, 29, a clothing salesman who said he had seen a Con Edison transformer explode from his window.
At Fanelli's, open since 1847 at Prince and Mercer Streets, there were no empty stools as the bartender served by flashlight. Small candles burned on the bar.
"Liquor, no food," said Mark Michaelson, 56, an art director, taking a smoke break at the entrance. "A Jameson's is like a sandwich."
President Barack Obama signed federal emergency declarations for 10 states and the District of Columbia, and he canceled campaign plans for Monday and Tuesday so he could remain at the White House and oversee the storm response. After visiting the headquarters of the Red Cross in Washington, Obama told reporters, "My message to the federal government: No bureaucracy. No red tape." He said if local officials get no for an answer from the federal government, "they can call me personally at the White House."