Hurricane Sandy, one of the largest and fiercest storms to menace the East Coast in years, lost some power but still packed a devastating wallop that slammed into New Jersey on Monday evening with torrential rains, howling winds and widespread flooding.
The National Weather Service was projecting diminished rainfall in many areas Tuesday, but the damage had already been done. The powerful storm transformed some of Atlantic City’s streets into rivers and inundated parts of Lower Manhattan, water forming whitewater cascades in Ground Zero and swamping New York’s financial district. Part of Manhattan’s storied skyline went dark as power failed for more than 250,000 customers south of Midtown, some of an estimated 7.5 million people on the eastern seaboard who lost power.
Sandy — which was reclassified as a nontropical storm because of its unusual dynamics — came ashore at 8 p.m. in Atlantic City, carrying sustained hurricane-force winds of 80 mph or more and dangerous flood tides as high as 13 feet , the National Hurricane Center said.
At least 16 people in seven states died as a result of the storm, the Associated Press reported.President Obama declared a major disaster in New York and New Jersey.
By about 4:30 a.m. Tuesday, Sandy was classified a post-tropical cyclone. Meteorologists said Sandy lost some characteristics of a tropical storm because of its collision with arctic air. But that collision also created an unsually large and dangerous storm system spanning nearly 1,000 miles. Fierce snowstorms dumped as much as 2 feet of snow across mountainous areas in southern Virginia, West Virginia and western Maryland, forcing officials to close Interstate 68.
The storm also had an impact on politics, as candidates called off campaign events and election officials shut down early voting in some areas.
Even on its approach, the effects of the superstorm were felt as flooding rains, gale-force winds and heavy seas swamped islands, ravaged coastal towns, shut down major transportation arteries, closed government offices at all levels, and forced hundreds of thousands to evacuate low-lying areas. The tall ship HMS Bounty sank off the North Carolina coast; 14 crew members were rescued by the Coast Guard, but one crew member drowned and the captain of the ship was missing.
In Washington, the region’s entire public transit system — Metro, Virginia Railway Express and the Maryland Transportation System — came to a halt on Monday, and most federal employees were told to stay home.
Federal officials announced that government offices would remain closed Tuesday for most employees, while Metro officials shut down rail, bus and MetroAccess service at least through Tuesday morning.
Amtrak canceled Northeast service, while stranded airplane passengers dozed or played cards in quiet terminals after dozens of flights were scratched at Reagan National Airport and Dulles International Airport.
In Maryland, high winds forced the closure of the Bay Bridge around 3 p.m. Monday. The Millard E. Tydings Memorial Bridge — which carries Interstate 95, the East Coast’s major artery, over the Susquehanna River — remained open but was operating under speed restrictions because of high winds. The speed on interstates and other highways was also reduced to 45 mph.
Schools, colleges and universities shut their doors in anticipation of power outages and dangerous road conditions, and some announced they would be closed Tuesday and Wednesday as well. D.C. taxi cabs announced a $15 per ride emergency surcharge.
U.S. stock markets did not open Monday — their first weather-related closure in nearly three decades — and were to remain closed Tuesday as well.
President Obama signed federal emergency declarations for eight states and the District of Columbia, permitting state officials to begin making requests for federal assistance, including manpower and equipment. The president also canceled campaign plans for Monday and Tuesday so he could remain at the White House and oversee the federal response to the storm..
GOP challenger Mitt Romney also shelved most of his campaign plans. Former Virginia governors George F. Allen and Timothy M. Kaine, who are locked in a tough fight for the U.S. Senate, temporarily suspended their public events because of the weather, too. Both candidates also warned residents to take down their yard signs lest they go airborne.
“We are certain that this is going to be a slow-moving process through a wide swath of the country, and millions of people are going to be affected,” Obama told reporters at the White House. He said the Federal Emergency Management Agency has pre-positioned supplies and is working closely with state and local officials.
Asked about the storm’s effect on the election campaign, Obama said: “I am not worried at this point about the impact on the election. I’m worried about the impact on families, and I’m worried about the impact on our first-responders. I’m worried about the impact on our economy and on transportation. ”
An AccuWeather meteorologist predicted that the storm would affect 60 million people in its path from North Carolina to New England and cost billions of dollars.
“Sandy is unfolding as the Northeast’s Katrina in terms of impact,” AccuWeather meteorologist Steve Wistar said.
Sandy strengthened in the morning, with maximum sustained winds reaching 90 miles per hour, up from 75 mph previously. As predicted, the vast storm — some 900 miles wide — began moving west from the ocean toward land.
In Washington, winds gusted as high as 60 mph. Rock Creek’s waters were rising, and standing water was reported on K Street NW, Connecticut Avenue NW and U.S. 50/Arlington Boulevard.
Significant flooding was reported Monday in Atlantic City, N.J. and Ocean City, Md., and half of Ocean City's main fishing pier was washed away.
Ocean City officials said Sandy was comparable to the massive storm that snapped the city’s historic boardwalk in 1985, while a large chunk of the city’s main fishing pier snapped in heavy seas. About 200 residents remained in the resort town, despite a mandatory evacuation. No injuries or deaths were reported, officials said.
National Guard and swift water rescue teams evacuated more than 100 people in the city of Crisfield, another of the hardest hit areas in Maryland. Electricity had been cutoff entirely to the city, and some residents remained stranded in the dark, sheltering on the second floor of homes flooded with five feet or more of water, officials said.
In Fairfax County, officials began evacuating people from the flood-prone Huntington community, beginning with Arlington Terrace and Fenwick Drive.
Officials in Washington, Baltimore, Philadelphia and New York braced for significant damage and ordered some to leave their homes. . New York Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg (I) ordered the evacuation of Coney Island and a huge swath of Lower Manhattan, and authorities shut down the city’s schools and its subway system, effectively bringing the nation’s largest city to a near-halt.
More than 60 miles inland, Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter (D) urged people to leave low-lying neighborhoods. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) blasted Atlantic City Mayor Lorenzo Langford as a “rogue mayor” for defying the governor’s mandatory evacuation order.
The Star-Ledger of Newark reported that Christie said Langford had allowed people to shelter in city schools, including one that flooded. And rescue workers would not be able to get there until the morning, Christie told reporters.
“This storm is a killer storm that will likely take more lives as she makes landfall,” O’Malley said. “This is a very large and unprecedented storm. It will be a couple of days before it will be even safe to get linemen out on the streets [and] up in the bucket trucks and reconnecting people to power.”
Virginia Gov. Robert F. McDonnell (R) said Sandy “is unlike any storm I’ve seen in 20 years in office. It’s a very unique weather event this late in the season for the people of Virginia.”
Utility companies brought in extra repair crews from distant states after it was predicted that up to 10 million people might lose electricity. And the lights started going out as Sandy drew near.
For a time, the storm forced utility companies to call their crews in, as any wind above 35 mph creates hazards for workers who operate bucket trucks.
Weather forecasters said the confluence of intense elements was unlike anything they have seen before, particularly across a swath of the United States inhabited by almost 60 million people.
“Many have compared Sandy to ‘the Perfect Storm’ of 1991, and experts have warned it may be even worse,” said Jason Samenow of The Washington Post’s Capital Weather Gang. “Generally speaking, though, each storm has its own character, and sometimes you just can’t compare until all is said and done.”
As the storm intensified at about 11:30 a.m., apartment building maintenance supervisor Bobby Richardson stepped into a 7-Eleven off of Wisconsin Avenue wearing a slick yellow rain outfit that made him resemble — to some extent — the Gorton's Fisherman.
Richardson said he had been out since 6 a.m. checking storm drains and gutters at an apartment complex near Connecticut Avenue and Rodman Street as the rain got progressively worse.
He headed to the convenience store a little before lunch so he could pick up a newspaper for an 87-year-old woman who is a family friend, Reotis Rogers.
Rogers usually walks to pick up a copy of The Washington Post every morning as part of her physical therapy but couldn’t because of today’s storm, Richardson said.
“This lady needs to have her newspaper every day,” said Richardson.
Lynh Bui, Ann E. Marimow, Lori Aratani, Emma Brown, Tim Craig, Aaron C. Davis, Hamil R. Harris, Ed O’Keefe, Laura Vozzella, Del Quentin Wilber, Debbi Wilgoren, William Branigin and the Associated Press contributed to this report.
Looking for something specific? Here’s a guide to our Hurricane Sandy coverage on washingtonpost.com:
Weather survival tips
Transportation: Metro, airports and more
Hurricane Sandy on social media
Politics and the storm