By Daniel Patrick Sheehan, Of The Morning Call
9:35 PM EDT, October 30, 2012
In New York and New Jersey, Sandy lived up to its advance billing as a once-in-a-lifetime megastorm, a deadly collision of tropical and arctic forces that hammered the coastline with mountainous waves and winds and swamped lower Manhattan with record flooding.
In the enormous area affected by Sandy — from the Carolinas to Maine, and inland to Ohio and West Virginia — at least 39 people died. Many were killed by falling trees and one, a teen from Wind Gap, died after crashing his all-terrain vehicle into a fallen tree. More than 7.5 million people were without power. Western areas of the storm zone were hit by heavy snow.
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie said the full impact on his state, where the storm made landfall Monday evening with sustained winds of 80 mph, would be hard to quickly determine. Emergency crews along the shore were engaged in a massive search and rescue operation.
An unprecedented tidal surge in northern New Jersey flooded three towns with a wall of water well over 5 feet high, forcing thousands of people from their homes. Moonachie, Little Ferry and Carlstadt were inundated after the swollen Hackensack River breached its barriers just after midnight.
Some popular resort communities, including Ocean City, were completely cut off by flooding, and the famed Atlantic City boardwalk sustained massive damage.
"There are boats in the street five blocks from the ocean," said evacuee Peter Sandomeno, one of the owners of the Broadway Court Motel in Point Pleasant Beach, N.J. He called the storm the worst he'd ever seen.
Christie, calling the destruction across the state "unprecedented," took an aerial tour Tuesday afternoon and reported to President Barack Obama.
Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett said he'd granted New Jersey's request for 35 ambulances and a "mass casualty" bus that could transport large numbers of the injured.
In addition, the state had made one of its urban search and rescue squads available for use in New Jersey, and was opening two "megashelters" — one at East Stroudsburg University, the other at West Chester University — for displaced people from New York and New Jersey.
In New York, the most destructive element of the storm wasn't water but fire, as a massive blaze destroyed as many as 100 beachfront homes in the Breezy Point section of the borough of Queens.
Firefighters told New York's WABC-TV that the water was chest high on the street, and they had to use a boat to make rescues. In one apartment home, about 25 people were trapped in an upstairs unit, and the two-story home next door was ablaze and setting fire to the apartment's roof. Firefighters climbed an awning to get to the trapped people and took them downstairs to a boat in the street.
Lower Manhattan, including Wall Street, was flooded by a surge of seawater measured at 13.4 feet at Battery Park, the island's southernmost tip. That's more than 3 feet higher than the record set in September 1960 during Hurricane Donna.
Water poured into the Queens Midtown and Brooklyn-Battery commuter tunnels. Some subway tunnels in lower Manhattan lost power after water flooded the stations and tracks.
Fearing the saltwater would damage the subway system and electrical network, New York City's main utility shut off electricity to about 6,500 customers in lower Manhattan.
More than 17,000 flights had been canceled through Tuesday. An additional 1,020 had been canceled for Wednesday. Several major airports remained closed, including John F. Kennedy International Airport and LaGuardia Airport in New York and Newark Liberty International in New Jersey.
The New York Stock Exchange was closed for a second straight day — the first time in a century weather has forced back-to-back closures — but officials said it would reopen Wednesday. Subway service, however, could be days from full restoration.
"We knew that this was going to be a very dangerous storm, and the storm has met our expectations," Mayor Michael Bloomberg said. "This is a once-in-a-long-time storm."
The National Weather Service gave a statistical glimpse at Sandy's breadth and power. West Islip, N.Y, recorded a 90 mph wind gust; 400 miles west, the town of Davis, W.Va., measured 18 inches of snow. Wildwood Crest, N.J., recorded a foot of rain.
Obama, who is expected to visit New Jersey on Wednesday to see the damage and thank first responders, issued federal emergency decrees for New York and New Jersey, declaring that "major disasters" existed in both states. One disaster-forecasting company predicted economic losses could ultimately reach $20 billion, only half insured.
Elsewhere along Sandy's path, officials spoke of dodging a bullet. Corbett used that phrase in describing the impact on Pennsylvania, which experienced near-record power outages from the storm's driving rains and howling winds, but escaped the kind of crippling damage forecasters had warned was possible as the storm gathered force on its march from the tropics.
But, Corbett added, "Anybody without electricity is probably not saying we dodged a bullet."
With forecasters saying the worst was in over in Pennsylvania Tuesday morning, Corbett said he believed the overall impact would be less severe than last year's Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee.
The storm proved deadly in Pennsylvania, however. Robert Mills of Wind Gap, 17, died after crashing an all-terrain-vehicle into a fallen tree about 9:30 p.m. Monday in Plainfield Township.
Mills, of the first block of Eighth Street, died in Lehigh Valley Hospital-Cedar Crest after suffering fatal head injuries, according to Lehigh County Coroner Scott Grim.
Mills' passenger, whose name was not released, was also hospitalized with serious injuries, said Plainfield Township police officer John Thompson.
"I assume they were just joyriding, but why you would joyride during a hurricane, I don't know," Thompson said.
In Berks County, 62-year-old Gerald Witman was killed when a tree fell on his home in Pike Township near Boyertown.
Statewide there were two other deaths — an 8-year-old boy struck by a tree limb in Susquehanna County and a man who fell out of a tree while trimming branches in Lancaster County.
The ripple effect of the storm is likely to be felt for days, as utility companies work to restore power.
Allentown-based PPL said more than 400,000 customers had lost electricity. Only two storms have darkened more of the utility's households and businesses: Hurricane Isabel in 2003 and Hurricane Irene last year.
Statewide, PPL serves 1.4 million customers in 29 counties.
After last October's snowstorm, many customers were out of power for five days. But some could be in the dark for even longer this time around because PPL's service area has been affected by more, smaller problems involving individual distribution lines, each requiring the services of both a tree-trimming crew and line crew. In contrast, the snowstorm disabled more transmission lines which, when repaired, restored power to thousands of customers at a time.
Before Sandy made landfall, PPL warned it could result in outages lasting at least a week.
"We're sticking with that estimate, at least until we can do more damage assessment," utility spokesman Michael Wood said. "Many customers could be restored sooner, but we want people to be prepared for prolonged outages."
As of 8 p.m. Tuesday, 208,962 Lehigh Valley homes and businesses still were without electricity, according to PPL and Met-Ed. That comprised 106,805 in Lehigh County and 102,157 in Northampton County.
For Philadelphia-based Peco Energy, Sandy was the most damaging storm in the utility's history, knocking out power to 850,000 customers at the height of the storm Monday. By 2 p.m. Tuesday, 490,000 customers were still without service, including 180,000 in Bucks and 145,000 in Montgomery counties. The company says it may take a week to get all the power back on.
Met-Ed, which serves some of Lehigh and much of Northampton counties, had about 190,000 customers without power statewide, said spokesman Scott Surgeoner. By 8 p.m. Tuesday, electricity still had not been restored to 13,252 customers in Monroe County, 49,376 in Northampton County and 4,056 in Lehigh County.
The second-largest refinery on the East Coast has suffered flooding and a power outage, while two smaller plants also lost power, as glitches threaten to slow the recovery in fuel supplies. However, the region's biggest plant, in Philadelphia, and several others were ramping up operations after escaping damage.
This story was compiled from Morning Call staff reports and wire accounts.
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