Sandy's Death Toll Hits 50; Costs Could Top $50B

By: AP/CBS (Posted by Melissa Brunner)
By: AP/CBS (Posted by Melissa Brunner)

(CBS) The most devastating storm in decades to hit the country's most densely populated region upended man and nature as it rolled back the clock on 21st-century lives, cutting off modern communication and leaving millions without power Tuesday as thousands who fled their water-menaced homes wondered when — if — life would return to normal.

A weakening Sandy, the hurricane turned fearsome superstorm, killed at least 50 people, many hit by falling trees, and still wasn't finished. It inched inland across Pennsylvania, ready to bank toward western New York to dump more of its water and likely cause more havoc Tuesday night. Behind it: a dazed, inundated New York City, a waterlogged Atlantic Coast and a moonscape of disarray and debris — from unmoored shore-town boardwalks to submerged mass-transit systems to delicate presidential politics.

"Nature," said New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, assessing the damage to his city, "is an awful lot more powerful than we are."

Bloomberg says the New York City death toll from superstorm Sandy is up to 18.

The dead included two who drowned in a home and one who was in bed when a tree fell on an apartment. A 23-year-old woman died after stepping into a puddle near a live electrical wire.

The misery of Sandy's devastation grew Tuesday as millions along the U.S. East Coast faced life without power or mass transit for days, and huge swaths of New York City remained eerily quiet.

New York City was among the hardest hit, with its financial heart in Lower Manhattan shuttered for a second day and seawater cascading into the still-gaping construction pit at the World Trade Center.

"This will be one for the record books," said John Miksad, senior vice president for electric operations at Consolidated Edison, which had more than 684,000 customers without power in and around New York City on Tuesday morning.

The storm that made landfall in New Jersey on Monday evening with 80 mph sustained winds killed at least 39 people in nine states, cut power to more than 8.2 million homes and businesses from the Carolinas to Maine, caused scares at two nuclear power plants, and stopped the presidential campaign cold. More than 18,000 flights domestic and international were cancelled.

Sandy will end up causing about $20 billion in property damage and $10 billion to $30 billion more in lost business, making it one of the costliest natural disasters on record in the U.S., according to IHS Global Insight, a forecasting firm.

The full extent of the damage in New Jersey, where the massive storm made landfall Monday evening, 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."

Remnants of the former Category 1 hurricane were forecast to head across Pennsylvania before taking another sharp turn into western New York by Wednesday morning. Although weakening as it goes, the massive storm — which caused wind warnings from Florida to Canada — will continue to bring heavy rain and local flooding, said Daniel Brown, warning coordination meteorologist at the National Hurricane Center in Miami.

As Hurricane Sandy closed in on the Northeast, it converged with a cold-weather system that turned it into a monstrous hybrid of rain and high wind — and even snow in West Virginia and other mountainous areas inland.

President Barack Obama has declared a major disaster in New York and Long Island, making federal funding available to residents of the area. Mr. Obama (who canceled a third day of campaign events in order to deal with Sandy's aftermath) also signed a disaster declaration for New Jersey.

Historic flooding in New York City

Sitting on the dangerous northeast wall of the storm, the New York metropolitan area got the worst of it.

An unprecedented 13-foot storm surge of seawater — three feet above the previous record — gushed into the harbor, flooding city streets and subway stations. The Brooklyn-Battery and Queens Midtown Tunnels were flooded.

Metropolitan Transportation Authority Chairman Joseph Lhota, said the damage to the subway system's was the worst in its 108-year history.

The system remained shut down Tuesday as transit officials begin the process of pumping corrosive salt water out of tunnels in lower Manhattan and parts of Queens that were inundated. The pumping, MTA officials told CBS Station WCBS, could take up to four days.

An explosion at a Con Edison substation Monday night knocked out power to about 310,000 customers in lower Manhattan, creating an eerie darkness in the city as floodwaters churned in city streets. A hospital was forced to evacuate patients when a back-up generator failed.

In Queens, nearly 200 firefighters tried to contain an enormous blaze that consumed more than 80 homes in the Breezy Point neighborhood. They had to use a boat to make rescues and climbed an awning to reach about 25 trapped people, fire officials said.

Hurricane-force winds partially collapsed a crane hoisted 74 stories above Midtown, which remained perilously swaying on Tuesday morning. Plans were made to stabilize the structure once the winds died down.

Trading at the New York Stock Exchange was canceled again Tuesday — the first time the exchange suspended operations for two consecutive days due to weather since an 1888 blizzard struck the city - but the NYSE will reopen on Wednesday.

2.3M without power in New Jersey

Hours after landfall, the storm's effects were still being felt acutely in New Jersey, where downed trees and flooding knocked out power to more than 2.3 million utility customers.

Just before Sandy made landfall at 8 p.m. near Atlantic City, N.J., forecasters stripped the storm of hurricane status — but the distinction was purely technical, based on its shape and internal temperature. It still packed hurricane-force winds, and forecasters were careful to say it was still dangerous to the tens of millions in its path.

While the hurricane's 90 mph winds registered as only a Category 1 on a scale of five, it packed "astoundingly low" barometric pressure, giving it terrific energy to push water inland, said Kerry Emanuel, a professor of meteorology at MIT.

The storm caused massive flooding along New Jersey's shoreline, cutting off Atlantic City and other barrier island communities and washing away part of the resort town's historic boardwalk. Many residents who stayed put rather than evacuating were stranded.

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie — whose own family had to move to the executive mansion after his home in Mendham, far from the storm's center, lost power — criticized the mayor of Atlantic City for opening shelters there instead of forcing people out.

In North Jersey, hundreds of people were forced to flee their homes after the entire town of Moonachie, located about 10 miles northwest of Manhattan, was flooded. Local authorities initially reported a levee had broken, but Gov. Chris Christie said a berm overflowed.

Police Sgt. Tom Schmidt said within 45 minutes streets were underwater and impassable. Floodwaters also knocked out the police and fire departments, forcing them to relocate command centers to a neighboring community.

Jersey City was closed to cars because traffic lights were out, and Hoboken, just over the Hudson River from Manhattan, dealt with major flooding.

By Tuesday morning the entire length of the Garden State Parkway has reopened - though Gov. Christie tweeted that motorists shouldn't drive unless absolutely necessary because 200 other state roads remain closed.

Deadly Hazards as Sandy Moves Inland

As it converged with other storm systems and made landfall Monday, Sandy - which killed 69 people in the Caribbean before making its way up the Eastern Seaboard - has been blamed for at least 33 deaths, including 17 in New York, four in Pennsylvania, three in New Jersey, two each in Connecticut, Maryland and Virginia, and one each New Hampshire, West Virginia and North Carolina. Three of the victims were children, one just 8 years old.

The massive weather system reached well into the Midwest: Chicago officials warned residents to stay away from the Lake Michigan shore as the city prepares for winds of up to 60 mph and waves exceeding 24 feet well into Wednesday.

In Baltimore, fire officials said four unoccupied rowhouses collapsed in the storm, sending debris into the street but causing no injuries. Meanwhile, a blizzard in far western Maryland caused a pileup of tractor-trailers that blocked the westbound lanes of Interstate 68 on slippery Big Savage Mountain near the town of Finzel.

Hundreds of miles from the storm's center, gusts topping 60 mph prompted officials to close the port of Portland, Maine, and scaring away several cruise ships.

A state of emergency in New Hampshire prompted Vice President Joe Biden to cancel a rally in Keene and Republican nominee Mitt Romney's wife, Ann, to call off her bus tour through the Granite State.

About 360,000 people in 30 Connecticut towns were urged to leave their homes under mandatory and voluntary evacuation orders. Christi McEldowney was among those who fled to a Fairfield shelter. She and other families brought tents for their children to play in.

"There's something about this storm," she said. "I feel it deep inside."

More Fallout From the Storm

According to the flight-tracking service FlightAware, Superstorm Sandy grounded more than 15,000 flights across the Northeast and the globe on Monday and Tuesday.

By early Tuesday morning, more than 500 flights scheduled for Wednesday also were canceled.

It could be days before some passengers can get where they're going.

Amtrak says most train service in the Northeast remains suspended and a decision will be made later in the day on restoring limited service north and south of New York on Wednesday.

Off North Carolina, not far from an area known as "the Graveyard of the Atlantic," a replica of the 18th-century sailing ship HMS Bounty that was built for the 1962 Marlon Brando movie "Mutiny on the Bounty" sank when her diesel engine and bilge pumps failed. Coast Guard helicopters plucked 14 crew members from rubber lifeboats bobbing in 18-foot seas.

A 15th crew member who was found unresponsive several hours after the others was later pronounced dead. The Bounty's captain was still missing.

One of the units at Indian Point, a nuclear power plant about 45 miles north of New York City, was shut down around 10:45 p.m. Monday because of external electrical grid issues, said Entergy Corp., which operates the plant. The company said there was no risk to employees or the public.

Officials declared an "unusual event" at the Oyster Creek nuclear power plant in Lacey Township, N.J., the nation's oldest, when waters searched to 6 feet above sea level during the evening. Within two hours, the situation at the reactor — which was offline for regular maintenance — was upgraded to an alert, the second-lowest in a four-tiered warning system. Oyster Creek provides 9 percent of the state's electricity.

© 2012 CBS Interactive Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Coverage from Monday:
ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. (CBS/AP) Superstorm Sandy slammed into the New Jersey coastline with 80 mph winds Monday night and hurled an unprecedented 13-foot surge of seawater at New York City, threatening its subways and the electrical system that powers Wall Street. At least 10 deaths were blamed on the storm, which brought the presidential campaign to a halt a week before Election Day.

Sandy knocked out power to at least 3.1 million people, and New York's main utility said large sections of Manhattan were plunged into darkness. Water pressed into the island from three sides.

Just before its center reached land, the storm was stripped of hurricane status, but the distinction was purely technical, based on its shape and internal temperature. It still packed hurricane-force wind, and forecasters were careful to say it remained every bit as dangerous to the 50 million people in its path.

As the storm closed in, it smacked the boarded-up big cities of the Northeast corridor — Washington, Baltimore, Philadelphia, New York and Boston — with stinging rain and gusts of more than 85 mph. It also converged with a cold-weather system that turned it into a superstorm, a monstrous hybrid consisting not only of rain and high wind but snow.

Sandy made landfall at 8 p.m. near Atlantic City, which was already mostly under water and saw a piece of its world-famous Boardwalk washed away earlier in the day.

Authorities reported a record surge 13 feet high at the Battery at the southern tip of Manhattan, from the storm and high tide combined.

In an attempt to lessen damage from saltwater to the subway system and the electrical network beneath the city's financial district, New York City's main utility cut power to about 6,500 customers in lower Manhattan. But a far wider swath of the city was hit with blackouts caused by flooding and transformer explosions.

The subway system was shut down Sunday night, and the stock markets never opened at all Monday. They are likely to be closed Tuesday as well.

The surge hit New York City hours after a construction crane atop a luxury high-rise collapsed in the wind and dangled precariously 74 floors above the street. Forecasters said the wind at the top the building may have been close to 95 mph.

As the storm drew near, airlines canceled more than 12,000 flights, disrupting the plans of travelers all over the world.

Storm damage was projected at $10 billion to $20 billion, meaning it could prove to be one of the costliest natural disasters in U.S. history.

The 10 deaths were in New Jersey, New York, Maryland, Pennsylvania and Connecticut. Some of the victims were killed by falling trees.

President Barack Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney canceled their campaign appearances at the very height of the race, with just over a week to go before Election Day. The president pledged the government's help and made a direct plea from the White House to those in the storm's path.

"When they tell you to evacuate, you need to evacuate," he said. "Don't delay, don't pause, don't question the instructions that are being given, because this is a powerful storm."

Sandy, which killed 69 people in the Caribbean before making its way up the Atlantic, began to hook left at midday toward the New Jersey coast.

Pete Wilson, who owns an antiques shop in Cape May, N.J., at the state's southern tip and directly in Sandy's path, said the water was 6 inches above the bottom edge of the door. He had already taken a truckload of antiques out but was certain he would take a big hit.

"My jewelry cases are going to be toast," he said. "I am not too happy. I am just going to have to wait, and hopefully clean up."

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie said people were stranded in Atlantic City, which sits on a barrier island. He accused the mayor of allowing them to stay there. With the hurricane roaring through, Christie warned it was no longer safe for rescuers, and advised people who didn't evacuate the barrier islands to "hunker down" until morning.

"I hope, I pray, that there won't be any loss of life because of it," he said.

While the hurricane's 90 mph winds registered as only a Category 1 on a scale of five, it packed "astoundingly low" barometric pressure, giving it terrific energy to push water inland, said Kerry Emanuel, a professor of meteorology at MIT.

And the New York metropolitan apparently got the worst of it, because it was on the dangerous northeastern wall of the storm.

"We are looking at the highest storm surges ever recorded" in the Northeast, said Jeff Masters, meteorology director for Weather Underground, a private forecasting service. "The energy of the storm surge is off the charts, basically."

Hours before landfall, there was graphic evidence of the storm's power.

A construction crane atop a luxury high-rise in New York City collapsed in the wind and dangled precariously 74 floors above the street. Forecasters said the wind at the top the building may have been close to 95 mph.

Flooding will continue to be a huge threat, with many areas potentially seeing rainfall amounts between 5 and 8 inches over a 48-hour period.

The full moon will make storm surges worse, as high tides along the Eastern Seaboard will rise about 20 percent higher than normal.

Correspondent Chip Reid reports from Ocean City, Md., that sea levels could rise 8 feet above normal - enough to flood much of the city.

In addition to rains and flooding, about 2 to 3 feet of snow is forecast for mountainous parts of West Virginia.

The tempest could endanger up to 50 million people for days. "This is the worst-case scenario," said Louis Uccellini, environmental prediction chief for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

From Washington to Boston, big cities and small towns were buttoned up against the onslaught of Sandy, with forecasters warning that the New York area could get the worst of it -- an 11-foot wall of water.

"There's a lot of people that are going to be under the impacts of this," Federal Emergency Management Administrator Craig Fugate said on "CBS This Morning" Monday.

"You know, we've got blizzard warnings as far west as West Virginia, Appalachian Mountains, but I think the biggest concern right now are the people in the evacuation areas. They're going to face the most immediate threats with the storm surge."

"The biggest challenge is going to be not knowing exactly where the heaviest-hit areas are going to be," said Fugate, "and the fact the storm's going to take several days to move through the area with heavy rain and wind, so that's going to slow down recovery activities like utility crews getting out and putting power back up."

The U.S. Coast Guard rescued 14 members of a crew forced to abandon a tall ship about 90 miles off the North Carolina coast and continued to search for two other crew members. The storm lashed barrier islands and rendered several homes and businesses nearly inaccessible.

Forecasters said the combination of Sandy with the storm from the west and the cold air from the Arctic could bring close to a foot of rain in places, a potentially lethal storm surge of 4 to 11 feet across much of the region, and punishing winds that could cause widespread power outages that last for days. The storm could also dump up to 2 feet of snow in Kentucky, North Carolina and West Virginia.

Travel Advisories, Closures

Airlines canceled more than 7,200 flights and Amtrak began suspending train service across the Northeast. New York, Philadelphia, Washington and Baltimore moved to shut down their subways, buses and trains. More than 5 million riders a day depend on the transit system.

New York, Boston and other cities called off school Monday. And all non-essential government offices closed in the nation's capital.

Officials also postponed Monday's reopening of the Statue of Liberty, which had been closed for a year for $30 million in renovations. The United Nations said it would close Monday and canceled all meetings at its headquarters. And Broadway theaters were going dark.

The New York Stock Exchange said it will be shut down Monday, including electronic trading. Nasdaq is shutting the Nasdaq Stock Market and other U.S. exchanges and markets it owns, although its exchanges outside the U.S. will operate as scheduled.

Preparations and Evacuation

In Washington, President Obama promised the government would "respond big and respond fast" after the storm hits.

"My message to the governors as well as to the mayors is anything they need, we will be there, and we will cut through red tape. We are not going to get bogged down with a lot of rules," he said.

He also pleaded for neighborliness: "In times like this, one of the things that Americans do is we pull together and we help out one another. And so, there may be elderly populations in your area. Check on your neighbor, check on your friend. Make sure that they are prepared. If we do, then we're going to get through this storm just fine."

On Monday afternoon Mr. Obama said he had spoken with the governors of all states likely to be affected, and added there had been "extraordinarily close coordination" among various levels of government.

He said that even though food, water and generators have been moved into position, "this is going to be a difficult storm" with long-term power and transportation outages possible."

He stressed repeatedly the dangers posed by the slow-moving storm, and said its effects - including power outages - would not dissipate quickly.

The storm forced the president and Mitt Romney to rearrange their campaign schedules in the crucial closing days of the presidential race. And early voting on Monday in Maryland and the District of Columbia was canceled.

As rain from the leading edges of the monster hurricane began to fall over the Northeast, hundreds of thousands of people from Maryland to Connecticut were ordered to evacuate low-lying coastal areas, including 375,000 in lower Manhattan and other parts of New York City, 50,000 in Delaware and 30,000 in Atlantic City, N.J., where the city's 12 casinos were forced to shut down for only the fourth time ever.

"We were told to get the heck out. I was going to stay, but it's better to be safe than sorry," said Hugh Phillips, who was one of the first in line when a Red Cross shelter in Lewes, Del., opened at noon.

"I think this one's going to do us in," said Mark Palazzolo, who boarded up his bait-and-tackle shop in Point Pleasant Beach, N.J., with the same wood he used in past storms, crossing out the names of Hurricanes Isaac and Irene and spray-painting "Sandy" next to them. "I got a call from a friend of mine from Florida last night who said, 'Mark, get out! If it's not the storm, it'll be the aftermath. People are going to be fighting in the streets over gasoline and food.'"

However, CBS News correspondent Chip Reid reports, some, like Ocean City, Md., surfer Brian Dean, said they have decided to stay.

"We've got everything pretty well situated, bunkered down, generators, [we'll] hang out, ride it out. We rode out Irene last year, it wasn't that bad," he said.

By mid-morning Monday CBS Station WCBS reports the ocean has breached the main oceanfront drive, Ocean Avenue, in Cape May, N.J., and streets in Atlantic City are rapidly flooding around the Boardwalk area.

Authorities warned that the nation's biggest city could get hit with a surge of seawater that could swamp parts of lower Manhattan, flood subway tunnels and cripple the network of electrical and communications lines that are vital to the nation's financial center.

Sandy was blamed for 65 deaths in the Caribbean before it began traveling northward, parallel to the Eastern Seaboard.

New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg warned: "If you don't evacuate, you are not only endangering your life, you are also endangering the lives of the first responders who are going in to rescue you. This is a serious and dangerous storm."

New Jersey's famously blunt Gov. Chris Christie was less polite: "Don't be stupid. Get out."

Despite the dire warnings, still others were refusing to budge.

Jonas Clark of Manchester Township, N.J. -- right in the area where Sandy was projected to come ashore -- stood outside a convenience store, calmly sipping a coffee and wondering why people were working themselves "into a tizzy."

"I've seen a lot of major storms in my time, and there's nothing you can do but take reasonable precautions and ride out things the best you can," said Clark, 73. "Nature's going to what it's going to do. It's great that there's so much information out there about what you can do to protect yourself and your home, but it all boils down basically to 'use your common sense.'"

In New Jersey, Denise Faulkner and her boyfriend showed up at the Atlantic City Convention Center with her 7-month-old daughter and two sons, ages 3 and 12, thinking there was a shelter there. She was dismayed to learn that it was just a gathering point for buses to somewhere else. Last year, they were out of their home for two days because of Hurricane Irene.

"I'm real overwhelmed," she said as baby Zahiriah, wrapped in a pink blanket with embroidered elephants, slept in a car seat. "We're at it again. Last year we had to do it. This year we have to do it. And you have to be around all sorts of people -- strangers. It's a bit much."

Before leaving their home in Atlantic City, John and Robshima Williams of packed their kids' Halloween costumes so they could go bunk-to-bunk trick-or-treating at a shelter. Her 8-year-old twins are going as the Grim Reaper and a zombie, while her 6-year-old plans to dress as a witch.

"We're just trying to make a bad situation good," the mother said. "We're going to make it fun no matter where we are."

© 2012 CBS Interactive Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.


Comments are posted from viewers like you and do not always reflect the views of this station.
powered by Disqus
631 SW Commerce Pl. Topeka, Kansas 66615 phone: 785-272-6397 fax: 785-272-1363 email: feedback@wibw.com
Gray Television, Inc. - Copyright © 2002-2014 - Designed by Gray Digital Media - Powered by Clickability 176335661