NEW YORK (AP) — Much of New York was plunged into darkness yesterday by a superstorm that overflowed the city’s historic waterfront, flooded the financial district and subway tunnels and cut power to hundreds of thousands of people.
The city had shut its mass transit system, schools, the stock exchange and Broadway and ordered hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers to leave home to get out of the way of the Superstorm Sandy as it zeroed in on the nation’s largest city.
By evening, a record 13-foot storm surge was threatening Manhattan’s southern tip, howling winds had left a crane hanging from a high-rise, and utilities deliberately darkened part of downtown Manhattan to avoid storm damage.
“It’s really a complete ghost town now,” said Stephen Weisbrot, from a powerless 10th-floor apartment in lower Manhattan.
Water lapped over the seawall in Battery Park City, flooding rail yards, subway tracks, tunnels and roads. Rescue workers floated bright orange rafts down flooded downtown streets, while police officers rolled slowly down the street with loudspeakers telling people to go home.
“Now it’s really turning into something,” said Brian Damianakes, taking shelter in an ATM vestibule and watching a trash can blow down the street in Battery Park before the storm surge.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg said last night that the surge was expected to recede by midnight, after exceeding an original expectation of 11 feet.
“We knew that this was going to be a very dangerous storm and the storm has met our expectations,” he said. “This is a once-in-a-long-time storm.”
Shortly after the massive storm made landfall in southern New Jersey, Consolidated Edison cut power deliberately to about 6,500 customers in downtown Manhattan to avert further damage. Then, huge swaths of the city went dark, losing power to 250,000 customers in Manhattan, Con Ed spokesman Chris Olert said.
New York University’s hospital lost backup power, Bloomberg said.
Another 1 million customers lost power earlier in New York City, the northern suburbs and coastal Long Island, where floodwaters swamped cars, downed trees and put neighborhoods under water.
The storm had only killed one New York City resident by last night, a man who died when a tree fell on his home in the Flushing section of Queens.
The rains and howling winds, some believed to reach more than 95 mph, left a crane hanging off a luxury high-rise in midtown Manhattan, causing the evacuation of hundreds from a posh hotel and other buildings. Inspectors were climbing 74 flights of stairs to examine the crane hanging from the $1.5 billion.
The facade of a four-story Manhattan building in the Chelsea neighborhood crumbled and collapsed suddenly, leaving the lights, couches, cabinets and desks inside visible from the street. No one was hurt, although some of the falling debris hit a car.
On coastal Long Island, floodwaters swamped cars, downed trees and put neighborhoods under water as beachfronts and fishing villages bore the brunt of the storm. A police car was lost rescuing 14 people from the popular resort Fire Island.
The city shut all three of its airports, its subways, schools, stock exchanges, Broadway theaters and closed several bridges and tunnels throughout the day as the weather worsened.
Earlier, some New Yorkers defiantly soldiered on, trying to salvage normal routines and refusing to evacuate, as the mayor ordered 375,000 in low-lying areas to do.
On Long Island, floodwaters had begun to deluge some low-lying towns and nearly 150,000 customers had lost power. Cars floated along the streets of Long Beach and flooding consumed several blocks south of the bay, residents said.
A look at how Sandy affected the rest of the country
CAROLINAS: The U.S. Coast Guard rescued 14 members of a crew forced to abandon a tall ship off the North Carolina coast. One of the crew members was found hours later and was in critical condition at a hospital last night, but the ship’s captain was still missing. The HMS Bounty was originally built for the 1962 film “Mutiny on the Bounty” starring Marlon Brando and has been featured in other films, including one of the “Pirates of the Caribbean” movies. Power outages: 5,639.
CONNECTICUT: State police said one person has died after being hit by a falling tree. Power outages: 615,000.
KENTUCKY: Sandy is expected to bring snow to far southeastern Kentucky. A winter storm warning is in effect in Harlan, Letcher and Pike counties through tomorrow morning. Forecasters say snow could accumulate from 4 to 10 inches in high elevations and 1 to 3 inches in lower elevations.
NEW JERSEY: All roads into and out of Ocean City were closed due to flooding that has cut off the popular Jersey shore resort community. Former Hurricane Sandy flooded most of Atlantic City, sweeping away an old section of the city’s famed boardwalk. Officials said two people were killed when a tree landed on their vehicle. The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey said Newark Liberty airport has been shut down until further notice. The airport had technically been open throughout the day although flights were not coming or going. Power outages: 1.7 million.
PENNSYLVANIA: An infant was slightly injured when a tree fell on a house in Delaware County. A man died Sunday in Lancaster County when he fell while trimming a tree. Power outages: 640,000.
RHODE ISLAND: Officials were concerned about wind driving water north up Narragansett Bay, which could create flooding in low-lying areas of the upper bay, including Providence, Warwick and Cranston. Power outages: 110,000.
WISCONSIN: The Village of Pleasant Prairie along Lake Michigan near the Illinois border has advised residents in about 265 homes to voluntarily evacuate Tuesday morning because of the possibility of dangerously high waves and flooding. Lori Getter of the Wisconsin Division of Emergency Management said waves of 14-18 feet are forecast for Lake Michigan.