Sandy Wallops East Coast

     (CN) – Hurricane Sandy swamped Lower Manhattan Monday night, blacking out much of it, tore down piers in New Jersey, and knocked out power to 6 million people, with its second punch, a collision with an Arctic front, still to come.
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     Disasters were declared in seven states even before the storm made landfall in southern New Jersey at around 8 p.m. More than 1 million people were ordered to evacuate from low-lying communities.
     New York subways and PATH trains shut down, their tunnels flooded in Manhattan, Brooklyn and Long Island City. Public schools were closed and Mayor Michael Bloomberg ordered Coney Island evacuated.
     New York University Hospital was evacuated and Bellevue hospital’s backup generator was running out of power as Tuesday began.
     A tower crane collapsed atop a Midtown condominium and the tall ship HMS Bounty sank off the coast of North Carolina. Fourteen people were rescued; two crew members are missing.
     Half of Ocean City, N.J.’s main fishing pier was washed away and Atlantic City and Ocean City, N.J., were flooded.
     Charleston, W. Va. got 5 inches of snow Monday night and nearby mountains got as much as 20 inches.
     Yet amid all the chaos were weird spots of calm. LaGuardia Airport reported wind gusts approaching 60 mph Monday morning, yet by the afternoon in nearby Astoria, Queens, a Courthouse News reporter said, the weather was “mild.”
     Tommy, the owner of Mediterranean Foods, a Greek grocery shop in Queens, said he stayed open Monday at the requests of customers, who bought feta, marinated octopi, sardines, cold cuts and water to wait out the storm.
     “It’s like a holiday,” he said. “That’s what it feels like.”
     A few hours later, Lower Manhattan was blacked out, and hospitals were being evacuated. A 30-year-old Queens man was killed by a falling tree a few minutes before 8 p.m. A woman in Queens was killed when she stepped into electrified water.
     The Oyster Creek nuclear power plant in New Jersey declared an alert due to high water in the intake system at 8:45 p.m. The alert is the second stage of four levels, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission said. The NRC said it expected the water level to recede without causing damage, but said it had posted inspectors at all the nuclear plants that could feel the effects of the giant storm, from New York to New Jersey, Maryland and Pennsylvania.
     The New York Stock Exchange did not open Monday, the first weather-related closing in 30 years. It was expected to remain closed today.
     Coastal communities seemed hardest hit, as Sandy’s storm surge of up to 14 feet – a rise in water level due to winds, atmospheric pressure and the full moon – wreaked havoc on piers and coastal highways.
     Nearly 400,000 homes lost power in Massachusetts, where coastal communities were evacuated, and Logan airport canceled more than 900 flights.
     More than 12,000 flights were canceled up and down the East Coast, as were Amtrak trains and some bus lines.
     Sandy, which hit land as a Category 1 hurricane, with winds of 90 mph, was recategorized as a nontropical storm, but its classification didn’t make much difference. A National Weather Service spokesman in Taunton, Mass., said the air pressure was the lowest ever recorded there.
     Nine hundred miles wide, Sandy is bigger than Alaska, 2½ times the size of Texas, 13 times the size of the six New England states combined.
     All parts of the public transit system in Washington, D.C., closed Monday afternoon, and federal employees were sent home or told to stay home. Federal offices in the nation’s capital were expected to remain closed today.
     Three of the Northeast’s six major refineries, including the largest two, shut down Monday evening, and two more reduced operations. Gas prices can be expected to rise, as Sandy reduced the region’s refining capacity by two-thirds.
     Economists told Reuters that the economic toll of the storm could exceed $40 billion, but said that spending on repairs would take some of the sting out of the damage.
     Hurricane Irene 14 months ago caused about $20 billion in damages to New England.
     Bloomberg News Service reported today that Sandy’s economic toll would “exceed $20 billion.”
     Courthouses closed in New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Philadelphia, Delaware and Rhode Island.
     In Southern Vermont, where Hurricane Irene’s $1 billion in damage last year equaled the size of the state’s annual budget, skies darkened Monday afternoon, rain picked up and winds howled from multiple directions, blowing the late autumn leaves from the trees. But the chaos expected Monday night and Tuesday evening did not come. The rain stopped. The wind died. At 4:30 a.m. Tuesday all was quiet.
     (Adam Klasfeld reported from Brooklyn and Manhattan, Robert Kahn from Brattleboro, Vt. Courthouse News reporters across the Northeast contributed reports. Some details were taken from wire reports.)

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