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Sandy packs a nasty wallop

By The Washington Post

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."

Republican challenger Mitt Romney also shelved many of his campaign plans but held a "storm relief" event near Dayton, Ohio. Romney ignored repeated questions from reporters about whether he wished to scale back the Federal Emergency Management Agency, a position he advocated during a GOP primary debate.

Obama will visit New Jersey today, touring damage with Gov. Chris Christie, a Republican with his own presidential aspirations. Christie said early Tuesday that 2.4 million New Jersey households were without power, twice the number that lost electricity during Irene.

"I spoke to the president three times yesterday," Christie said on CNN. "He's been incredibly supportive and helpful to our state, and not once did he bring up the election. . . . If he's not bringing it up, I'm certainly not going to bring it up."

Later in the day Christie toured the coastal towns by helicopter.

The governor vowed to rebuild:

"This is the kind of thing New Jerseyans are built for - we're plenty tough, and now we have a little more reason to be angry after this," he said. "Just what we need in New Jersey - a chance to be a little more angry."

After claiming 69 lives in the Caribbean, Hurricane Sandy was officially reclassified as a nontropical storm because of its unusual dynamics shortly before it came ashore at 8 p.m. Monday in Atlantic City. But it still packed sustained hurricane-force winds of 80 mph or more, and it produced dangerous flood tides as high as 13 feet , the National Hurricane Center said.

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 unusually large and dangerous storm system spanning nearly 1,000 miles and dumping as much as 2 feet of snow in mountainous areas.

In its latest incarnation, Sandy was weakening while moving slowly westward across southern Pennsylvania, its maximum sustained winds dropping to 45 mph, the National Hurricane Center said. It said high-wind warnings were in effect along the central to southern Appalachians and across portions of the Great Lakes. Storm warnings remained in effect along the Mid-Atlantic and New England coasts from Virginia to Massachusetts and across the Great Lakes.

U.S. stock markets remained closed for a second day Tuesday. It was the first time that the New York Stock Exchange was closed for two straight days because of weather since a major blizzard struck the city in 1888.

Sandy also forced the evacuation of coastal communities in Massachusetts while authorities in Maine shut down the Port of Portland.

Earlier Monday off the North Carolina coast, the tall ship HMS Bounty sank; 14 crew members were rescued by the Coast Guard, but one crew member drowned and the captain was missing.

"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 on Monday before Sandy came ashore. He said the Federal Emergency Management Agency has pre-positioned supplies and is working closely with state and local officials.

The storm touched an estimated 60 million people in its path from North Carolina to New England and is expected to wreak billions of dollars in damage. "Sandy is unfolding as the Northeast's Katrina in terms of impact," said AccuWeather meteorologist Steve Wistar, referring to the hurricane that devastated New Orleans in 2005.

 


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