Sandy kills 16 in U.S. as storm pummels east coast

At least 16 people have died as post-tropical storm Sandy pummels the U.S. east with powerful winds, rain, and a record-breaking storm surge that has inundated parts of the Eastern Seaboard, including some areas in New Jersey and New York City.

The Associated Press reported the U.S. deaths happened in New Jersey, New York, Maryland, North Carolina, West Virginia, Pennsylvania and Connecticut.

The cause of death was not immediately clear in most cases, but Reuters reported that at least two of the deaths were in Queens, New York. One man died when a tree hit a house, and a woman died in the same borough after stepping in an electrified puddle.

Meanwhile, a woman in Toronto was killed by a falling sign that came apart in high winds.

After days of dire forecasts, warnings and mass evacuations in coastal areas, Sandy came ashore near Atlantic City, N.J., around 8 p.m. ET. Environment Canada said the storm's effects were being felt as far as 1,000 kilometres away.

CBC meterologist Jay Scotland said at about 4:30 a.m. ET Tuesday that the storm was approximately 100 kilometres north-northwest of Philadelphia.

It still had very strong and gusty winds, with sustained winds of 111 km/h as of 2 a.m., Scotland said.

"Standing water combined with downed power lines will pose a threat for the coast, heavy rain across the northeast will bring the risk of flooding and west of the Appalachians heavy snow will continue to fall in places like West Virginia," he said.

Environment Canada said Sandy was expected to weaken "very rapidly" as it moves toward the eastern Great Lakes.

U.S. forecasters warned there was still potential for six-metre waves bashing into the Chicago lakefront and up to 90 centimetres of snow in West Virginia.

About 12,000 flights cancelled
About 12,000 flights were cancelled, train service was disrupted, roads were closed and schools and offices were shut down before the storm ever arrived.

Though the exact details of the damage being caused by Sandy are still unclear, the impact is huge: More than six million people are in darkness, and a record-breaking four-metre storm surge hit New Jersey and New York City, flooding streets and subway tunnels.

"It was one of the biggest storms ever to hit the eastern seaboard and the effects will be felt for days to come," CBC reporter Melissa Kent said from New York City at 5 a.m. ET.

Kent reported that at least 50 homes have been destroyed in a fire in the Queens neighbourhood of Breezy Point, which juts into the Atlantic. The area was in the flood zone, but it wasn't immediately clear if the storm directly caused the blaze. At least two people were injured.

Kent said the city is a "ghost town," with only emergency and utility vehicles out on the street.

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

Kent said police were out to prevent looting in lower Manhattan, where everything below 39th Street was still without power.

A New York City hospital was forced to move out more than 200 patients, including 20 infants from neonatal intensive care, after its backup generator failed when the power was knocked out by the superstorm.

Dozens of ambulances lined up outside NYU Tisch Hospital on Monday night as doctors and nurses began the slow process of taking people to other hospitals.

Most of the power outages in lower Manhattan, where the hospital is located, were due to an explosion at an electrical substation, officials at Consolidated Edison said.

Other damage around New York included a construction crane atop a high-rise in mid-town Manhattan that collapsed, and a four-storey building in Chelsea that lost its facade.

Kent said officials with the Metropolitan Transport Authority expect the flooded subway tunnels to remain closed for anywhere from 14 hours up to four days. The MTA's chief, Joe Lhota, called it the worst disaster in the subway's 108-year-old history.

New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg said late Monday that the worst of the rain had passed for the city, and that the high tide that sent water sloshing into Manhattan from three sides was receding.

New Jersey hit hard
In New Jersey, part of America's oldest nuclear power plant was put on alert after waters from superstorm Sandy rose 1.8 metres above sea level.

Officials said water levels near Oyster Creek, which is along the Atlantic Ocean, will likely recede within a few hours. The Oyster Creek nuclear plant went online in 1969 and provides 9 per cent of New Jersey's electricity. The plant was already out of service for scheduled refueling.

In addition, one of the units of the Indian Point nuclear plant, which is about 72 kilometres north of New York City, was shut down around 10:45 p.m. ET Monday, due to external electrical grid issues, said Entergy Corp., the plant's operator.

In Atlantic City, a popular New Jersey tourist destination, the storm washed away a section of the boardwalk.

"This storm is causing a great deal of damage. Especially on the New Jersey coastline," New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie said on Twitter earlier in the evening.

In Connecticut, the governor ordered non-essential state employees to stay home from work Tuesday.

According to WBUR, a public radio station in Boston, Sandy brought rough weather and strong surf to some coastal areas in Massachusetts. Hundreds of thousands of people in the state were without power late Monday, part of the sweeping outages that were leaving people in the dark in storm-affected areas.

People in parts of Pennsylvania were also being cautioned about power outages and wild weather.

Obama and Mitt Romney suspended their campaigning with just over a week to go before election day.

Obama declared emergencies in Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island, New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania, authorizing federal relief work to begin well ahead of time. He promised the government would "respond big and respond fast" after the storm hits.

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