NEW YORK — Millions of people from Maine to the Carolinas awoke Tuesday without electricity, and an eerily quiet New York City was all but closed off by car, train and air as superstorm Sandy steamed inland, still delivering punishing wind and rain. The U.S. death toll climbed to 33, many of the victims killed by falling trees.
The full extent of the damage in New Jersey, where the storm roared ashore Monday night with hurricane force, was unclear. Police and fire officials, some with their own departments flooded, fanned out to rescue hundreds.
“We are in the midst of urban search and rescue. Our teams are moving as fast as they can,” Gov. Chris Christie said. “The devastation on the Jersey Shore is some of the worst we’ve ever seen. The cost of the storm is incalculable at this point.”
At least 7.4 million people across the East were without power. Airlines canceled more than 15,000 flights around the world, and it could be days before the mess is untangled and passengers can get where they’re going.
The storm also put the White House campaign on hold just a week before Election Day. President Barack Obama canceled a third straight day of campaigning, scratching events scheduled for Wednesday in swing state Ohio, which got clobbered by Sandy’s winds as the storm pushed west.
Lower Manhattan, which includes Wall Street, was among the hardest-hit areas after the storm sent a nearly 14-foot surge of seawater, a record, coursing over its seawalls and highways and into low-lying streets.
Water cascaded into the gaping, unfinished construction pit at the World Trade Center, and the New York Stock Exchange was closed for a second day, the first time that has happened because of weather in more than a century.
A huge fire destroyed as many as 100 houses in a flooded beachfront neighborhood in Queens on Tuesday, forcing firefighters to undertake daring rescues. Three people were injured.
A downtown hospital, New York University’s Tisch, evacuated 200 patients after its backup generator failed. About 20 babies from the neonatal intensive care unit were carried down staircases and on battery-powered respirators.
And a construction crane that collapsed in the high winds on Monday still dangled precariously 74 floors above the streets of midtown Manhattan. And on Staten Island, a tanker ship wound up beached on the shore.
With water standing in two major commuter tunnels and seven subway tunnels under the East River, and Mayor Michael Bloomberg said it was unclear when the nation’s largest transit system would be rolling again. It shut down Sunday night ahead of the storm.
Joseph Lhota, chairman of the regional Metropolitan Transportation Authority, said the damage was the worst in the 108-year history of the New York subway.
The saltwater surge inundated subway signals, switches and electrified third rails and covered tracks with sludge. Workers began pumping the water out and will ultimately have to walk all of the hundreds of miles of track to inspect it.
Millions of more fortunate New Yorkers surveyed damage as dawn broke, their city brought to an extraordinary standstill.
“Oh, Jesus. Oh, no,” Faye Schwartz said she looked over damage in neighborhood in Brooklyn, where cars were scattered like leaves.
Reggie Thomas, a maintenance supervisor at a prison near the overflowing Hudson River, emerged from an overnight shift there, a toothbrush in his front pocket, to find his Honda with its windows down and a foot of water inside. The windows automatically go down when the car is submerged to free drivers.
“It’s totaled,” Thomas said with a shrug. “You would have needed a boat last night.”
Besides the subway and the stock exchange, most major tunnels and bridges in New York were closed, as were schools, Broadway theaters and the metropolitan area’s three main airports, LaGuardia, Kennedy and Newark.
“This will be one for the record books,” said John Miksad, senior vice president for electric operations at Consolidated Edison, which had more than 670,000 customers without power in and around New York City.
The death toll climbed rapidly, and included 17 victims in New York State – 10 of them in New York City – along with four dead in Pennsylvania and three in New Jersey. Sandy also killed 69 people in the Caribbean before making its way up the Eastern Seaboard.