Sandy Hits Coast, Floods New York

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Sandy Hits Coast, Floods New York

Superstorm Sandy carved a harrowing path of destruction through the East Coast on Monday, inundating Atlantic City and sending cars floating through the streets of lower Manhattan.

Kevin Hagen for The Wall Street Journal
Floodwaters from Sandy rushed into New York City late Monday, submerging cars up to their headlights on East 14th Street in Manhattan. The storm is expected to lash the Northeast through the week.

Accelerating Monday evening as it made landfall on the New Jersey coast, the storm promised a legacy as one of the most damaging ever to menace the Northeast, from North Carolina to New England.

Some 5.2 million people were left without electricity across the region Monday evening—the most since the 2003 blackout. In New York, more than 250,000 Con Ed customers from 39th Street south were left without power. One of the city's major hospitals was forced to evacuate patients late Monday when its backup power system failed.

A top Consolidated Edison official said it could take up to a week to restore power to the bulk of Manhattan neighborhoods plunged into darkness as the utility weighs the scope of damage left by the explosion that rocked a substation.

"It's sure shaping up to be a storm that will be historic in nature," said Louis Uccellini, director of the National Centers for Environmental Prediction, a federal government agency.

The storm left a trail of death, and the toll is expected to mount; at least 10 deaths were blamed on the storm.

Connecticut's governor, Dannel Malloy said thousands were stranded by rising water along the coastline of his state. He urged people in one-story homes to move to their roofs. "This is a Katrina-like warning we are issuing," he said.

The impact was mounting. As night fell Monday, a record breaking 13-foot surge of seawater hit New York City, flooding New York's Brooklyn-Battery tunnel, a major traffic artery, as well as portions of the city's subway system. Subway service could be crippled for "at least a week," the head of the municipal transportation authority said late Monday.

The Oyster Creek nuclear power plant in New Jersey declared an alert due to high water levels in its water intake structure, the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission said Monday evening. An alert is the second lowest of four levels the NRC uses to characterize events at power plants, and the NRC said conditions were still safe at and around the plant in Lacey Township, N.J., and at all other U.S. nuclear plants.

Economic damages from Sandy, which is expected to affect some 20% of the U.S. population, could be in the range of $10 billion to $20 billion, according to EQECAT, a catastrophe-risk modeling firm. That compares to Hurricane Irene, which caused $10 billion in damage last year. Insured losses from Hurricane Katrina in 2005 alone topped $45 billion, adjusted for inflation.

Over the course of Monday, as winds strengthened to 90 miles per hour, waves swept away a historic pier in Ocean City, Md., Monday and left Atlantic City, N.J., largely submerged—the sea rushing over its iconic boardwalk, surging through the streets, and leaving hundreds of people in need of rescue.

In New York City, the backup power at NYU Langone Medical Center on First Avenue in Manhattan failed, prompting an emergency evacuation of patients, Mayor Michael Bloomberg said Monday night.

"The one thing that we had not counted on, New York University's hospital backup power—in spite of them making sure, ensuring us that it's been tested—stopped working," the mayor said during a late news conference at the city's Office of Emergency Management in Brooklyn. "And we're working with them to help move people out."

In parts of West Virginia and Maryland, the National Weather Service issued a rare blizzard warning. "I can't ever remember a hurricane causing a blizzard warning," said Joe Palko, a Pittsburgh-based hydrologist with the National Weather Service.

At least 4.7 million public school students—about the population of Norway—stayed home Monday or will stay home Tuesday as a result of Hurricane Sandy, according to a Wall Street Journal tally. That estimate doesn't include private-school students; there may be more school closings that weren't reported to state education departments.

Sandy was relabeled from a hurricane to a posttropical cyclone on Monday evening. Earlier, its classification as a Category 1 storm, the least powerful category of hurricane, was deceiving. Scientists say the storm has an unusually low atmospheric pressure near its center, an important measure of a storm's strength.

The National Weather Service warned of potential flooding in coastal areas and damage well inland. Up to 12 inches of rain were expected over some parts of the mid-Atlantic states. The storm shut down the federal government for a second straight day Tuesday.

Snow began falling in the mountains of West Virginia on Monday and was expected to intensify across Appalachia over the next day as Sandy collided with cold air from the west.

Coastal communities were already grappling with the storm's impact by early Monday. The Coast Guard rescued 14 members of the crew of the HMS Bounty—a replica "tall ship" built as a movie prop in the 1960s and used more recently in "Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest." Two crew remembers were reported missing off the coast of North Carolina after the vessel sank in high seas. Late Monday, one of the two had been found.

Hurricane-force winds extended as much as 175 miles from Sandy's center. As of Monday, more than 14,200 flights had been canceled in and out of airports stretching from Washington, D.C., to Boston, according to, a flight-tracking service—well above the roughly 10,000 flights canceled by airlines in August 2011 for Hurricane Irene.

Several major U.S. companies, including pharmaceutical giant Pfizer Inc.PFE -0.70% and power-plant operator NRG Energy Inc., NRG -1.39% postponed quarterly reports because of Hurricane Sandy on the East Coast.

President Barack Obama and the Republican challenger for the presidency, Mitt Romney, both canceled campaign events Monday and Tuesday. Mr. Obama returned to Washington from Florida to focus on a response to what he called a "difficult storm."

Federal emergency officials said they have plenty of money available—about $3.6 billion—to pay for disaster relief and response. That is a contrast to last year, when dwindling coffers at the Federal Emergency Management Agency led to a political fight after Hurricane Irene caused widespread, costly flooding in the Northeast.

State and local officials issued dire warnings about the storm to residents Monday, urging them to get out of harm's way. Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley warned of possible fatalities and predicted Sandy would "sit on top of Maryland, and beat down on Maryland for a good 24-36 hours."

"There will be people who die and are killed in this storm," Mr. O'Malley said. Maryland suspended early voting on Monday and Tuesday.

During a news conference Monday evening, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie repeatedly attacked Atlantic City Mayor Lorenzo Langford for allowing people to stay in city shelters, including a school a block away from the boardwalk. "He was sending out a message that was counter to my message," Mr. Christie said. "I'm very disappointed."

Mr. Langford didn't respond to requests for comment. In a telephone interview on CNN Mr. Langford described Mr. Christie as ill-advised and misinformed.

Mr. Christie also expressed concern about people who refused to evacuate from seaside areas. "It's just stupid," he said in public remarks Monday.

On the barrier island of Brigantine, 50% of residents refused to evacuate, state officials said. Many in Cape May, a national historic landmark, also planned to stay put, despite flooding Monday.

Overall, an estimated 116,000 New Jersey residents were under mandatory evacuation orders. Flooding near Atlantic City had already extended to waterways inland about 18 miles.

In flooded Atlantic City late Monday, National Guard and other officials were trying to rescue nearly 500 people from their homes, said Tom Foley, the city's director of emergency management. The city relies heavily on tourism; it drew 34.4 million visitors who spent an estimated $7.5 billion in 2008, the most recent figures available, according to a Rutgers University study.

In Delaware, many residents of beach towns heeded mandatory evacuation orders and a driving ban, and hunkered down at shelters, hotels, and friends' houses. Melissa Yeager, 27 years old, evacuated her home on the second floor of a building in a low-lying area in Lewes, Del., to ride out the storm at a high school with her two daughters, Rosemary, 6, and Krissy, 3.

"I wanted to make sure my children were safe and I knew this was the safest place for them," Ms. Yeager said as she played board games with her daughter.

In Philadelphia, officials worried about flooding from the Schuylkill River, which runs through the heart of the city.

In New York City, roughly 2,500 people had booked into emergency storm shelters, less than 4% of the total capacity, nearly 24 hours after Mayor Michael Bloomberg ordered an evacuation of 375,000 people from the city's low-lying areas. Last year, when Mr. Bloomberg ordered the same evacuation of low-lying areas as Tropical Storm Irene barreled up the East Coast, roughly 60% complied, the mayor estimated.

In Brooklyn, police officer Ralph Tomeo found it hard to persuade people to heed evacuation orders. Dozens gathered Monday to gawk at the rising water levels along a waterfront. They carried takeout coffees, walked their dogs, and took pictures of one another standing in front of the crashing East River waves with their cellphones.

Kristin Franchok, who stayed with her husband and three children on the Rockaway peninsula in Queens, N.Y., despite an evacuation order, said Monday night their basement was flooded with 8 feet of water and their power was out.

"Definitely a mistake to stay," said Ms. Franchok, who evacuated for Irene but this year decided not to.

On eastern Long Island, the Hamptons were under assault midday, with officials there reporting beaches being washed away, houses in danger of collapse and roads submerged. "This is a monster," said Gary Vegliante, the mayor West Hampton Dunes, a small village on Dune Road, a narrow barrier island that lost dozens of houses in the immense 1991 hurricane that became known as the "Perfect Storm."

New England was battered with winds and heavy seas. Waves crashed onto the harbor walk by the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library & Museum. In Wilmington, Mass., winds caused a tree fall on to a car, sending the driver to the hospital.

Storm warnings provoked extra jitters in Vermont, which only 14 months ago was ravaged by Tropical Storm Irene. "Everyone is really worried," said Susan Lipkin, owner of the Harvest Moon Bed & Breakfast in Rutland. Ms. Lipkin said she is bringing inside anything that could be a projectile and trying to "make sure everything will be here tomorrow."—Heather Haddon, Reed Albergotti, Lisa Fleisher, Laura Nahmias, Jennifer Maloney, Will James, Jennifer Levitz, Kris Maher, Joseph De Avila, Mike Esterl, Jacob Gershman and Sean Gardiner contributed to this article.