NEW YORK: The death toll from superstorm Sandy has risen to 32 in the United States and Canada, and was expected to climb further as several people remained missing, officials said Tuesday. (click here for more photos)
Sandy had already killed at least 67 people, including a US national in Puerto Rico, as it swept through the Caribbean over the past few days, meaning the overall toll from the storm is now 99.
President Barack Obama said Tuesday the crisis sparked by superstorm Sandy was not over and vowed to do whatever it took to handle a disaster which he said had left America heartbroken.
“This storm is not yet over,” Obama warned during a visit to the headquarters of the American Red Cross in Washington, adding that people affected by the storm needed to know “America is with you.”
Earlier on, President Obama had declared a “major disaster” in New York as millions of people along the US East Coast awakened Tuesday to the deadly devastation caused by super-storm Sandy, an order that cleared the way for federal grants and loans to help storm victims acquire temporary housing and repair damage.
The storm weakened as it moved further inland but forecasters still warned of gale-force winds and flooding along the densely-populated coast, where a massive fire broke out in New York City and a levee broke in New Jersey.
Officials in the states of Connecticut, Maryland, New York, New Jersey, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Virginia and West Virginia all reported deaths from the massive storm system, while Toronto police said a Canadian woman was killed by flying debris.
Providing information of the latest fatalities on Tuesday morning, Connecticut Governor Dan Malloy said two people had been killed in his state, including a firefighter, and another two were missing.
Three people died in New Jersey, including two parents who were killed when a falling tree crushed their car, sparing their children aged 11 and 14 who were inside with them, Governor Chris Christie said.
Christie added that rescue operations were still under way, with three separate teams deployed in Atlantic City, the coastal casino town near where the storm made landfall at 0000 GMT Tuesday.
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo reported 15 storm-related deaths at a news briefing, including at least 10 killed when Sandy struck New York City.
“Tragically we expect that number to go up,” New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg warned.
Another four people were killed in Pennsylvania, including one killed from a falling tree and another when a house collapsed, emergency management officials told AFP.
Elsewhere along the East Coast, a woman on board a replica of the HMS Bounty was recovered from the sea and later died at hospital. The captain was still missing Tuesday after the tall ship went down off the coast of North Carolina.
Three storm-related deaths were reported in Maryland, Ed McDonough with the state Emergency Management Agency told AFP. Two were killed in vehicle-related accidents, while a third died when he was crushed by a tree that fell into his home.
And in West Virginia, a 48-year-old woman was killed when her car collided with a cement truck while driving through heavy snow caused by the storm, a local official said.
The National Hurricane Center said Sandy had weakened early Tuesday as it moved inland, but could still generate gale-force winds and flooding along the eastern seaboard.
US authorities had warned the threat to life and property was “unprecedented” and ordered hundreds of thousands of residents from New England to North Carolina to evacuate their homes and seek shelter.
Falling trees dragged down power cables, plunging millions of homes into darkness, while storm warnings cut rail links and marooned tens of thousands of travelers at airports across the region.
Disaster estimating firm Eqecat forecast that the massive storm would affect more than 60 million Americans, a fifth of the population, and cause up to $20 billion (15 billion euros) in damage.
Seawater coursed between the iconic skyscrapers of New York’s financial district in lower Manhattan, flooding subways and road tunnels and shorting out the power grid, leaving a half-million households and businesses in the dark.
Further south, the sea surged over vast swathes of the eastern seaboard, turning coastal cities into ghost towns as the high winds grounded flights and shut down rail links, public transport and government offices.
The catastrophe completely overshadowed the US election race, forcing a halt to campaigning a week before Americans were due to go to the polls to choose between President Barack Obama and challenger Mitt Romney.
Authorities had ordered hundreds of thousands of residents in areas from New England to North Carolina to evacuate their homes and seek shelter, but many chose to stay on, to the frustration of police and local officials.
A nuclear power plant in New Jersey declared an alert as waters rose.
The Oyster Creek nuclear power plant, just north of Atlantic City, New Jersey, was already on a scheduled outage as Sandy made landfall, and the industry regulator said there was no immediate danger.
The hurricane sent a record storm surge of 13.7 feet (4.15 meters) into lower Manhattan, flooding seven major subway tunnels used by hundreds of thousands of daily commuters and swamping cars in the financial district.
“The New York City subway system is 108 years old, but it has never faced a disaster as devastating as what we experienced last night,” city transport director Joseph Lhota said early Tuesday.
Firefighters meanwhile struggled to contain a massive blaze in the Queens borough that destroyed more than 50 homes, and in northern New Jersey police in boats pulled residents from second-story windows after a levee broke.
Hours earlier, a power sub-station exploded in a burst of light captured by amateur photographers as a massive blackout left much of Manhattan, and some 500,000 homes across New York City, in darkness.
The flood waters had begun to recede early Tuesday, but the Con Edison power company said it could take a week to completely restore power.
Disaster estimating firm Eqecat forecast that Sandy would affect more than 60 million Americans, a fifth of the population, and cause up to $20 billion (15 billion euros) in damage.
Refineries closed and major arteries such New York’s Holland Tunnel were shut to traffic. The operator of two major New Jersey nuclear plants said they might have to be closed, threatening half the state’s power supply.
The New York Stock Exchange, the Nasdaq and the futures markets in Chicago were closed for Monday and Tuesday, along with federal government offices and the entire Amtrak rail network on the eastern seaboard.
-Photos by AP and AFP
Obama urged Americans to heed local evacuation orders as he stepped off the campaign trail and spent the day in the White House helping to coordinate the response to the disaster.
“The election will take care of itself next week,” Obama said. “Right now, our number one priority is to make sure that we are saving lives… and that we respond as quickly as possible to get the economy back on track.”
Both the Democratic incumbent and his Republican rival Romney were keen to display resolute leadership in the face of the storm, given the memory of Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Romney also canceled some campaign appearances.
Former president George W. Bush was widely seen as having bungled the handling of Katrina, which devastated New Orleans. The failure of authorities in the ensuing emergency response tainted the rest of his presidency.