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Monster Storm

Published: Tue, October 30, 2012 @ 12:11 a.m.



Lower Manhattan goes dark during superstorm Sandy on Monday as seen from the Brooklyn Heights promenade in the Brooklyn borough of New York. One World Trade Center, background center, remains brightly lit.

Staff/wire reports


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 four deaths were blamed on the storm, and the presidential campaign ground to a halt a week before Election Day.

Sandy knocked out power to at least 3.1 million people — including more than 3,600 in the Mahoning Valley, according to FirstEnergy — and New York’s main utility said large sections of Manhattan had been plunged into darkness.

Kristen Yeager, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Cleveland, said the Youngstown area should expect winds to reach peak intensity in the early morning hours today with gusts reaching in excess of 55 miles per hour. A high-wind warning is in effect until 4 p.m. today, and a flood watch will continue through this evening.

Additional rainfall is expected to be between 1.5 to 3 inches, Yeager said.

Temperatures should remain in the upper 40s today and Wednesday, she added.

And snow? “That’s not currently in our forecast,” Yeager said.

Just before Sandy’s 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 more than 13 feet high at the Battery at the southern tip of Manhattan, from the storm and high tide combined.

A piece of Mahoning Valley history, now in New York City, was in the storm’s path. Jane’s Carousel, the 1922 Philadelphia Toboggan Co. model that once sat in Youngstown’s Idora Park, is located in Brooklyn Bridge Park along the East River.

The carousel is housed in an clear acrylic, square pavilion that is 72 feet on each wall with a 26-foot-high ceiling. Photos posted online Monday night showed water surrounding the pavilion. It was unclear Monday night how much, if any, damage was done.

In an attempt to lessen damage from saltwater to the subway system and the underground electrical network that underlies 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 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.

Airlines canceled more than 12,000 flights, disrupting the plans of travelers all over the world, and 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 four deaths were in Maryland, Pennsylvania, Connecticut and New York. Among them were two people 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.

The storm lost its status as hurricane because it no longer had a warm core center nor the convection — the upward air movement in the eye — that traditional hurricanes have, but it was still as dangerous as it was when it was considered a hurricane, according to National Hurricane Center spokesman Dennis Feltgen.

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 situated 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.

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