Sandy leaves US limping, 33 dead, 7.5 mn without power

Washington/New York: Slamming into New York and New Jersey overnight, Hurricane Sandy Tuesday left a vast trail of destruction killing at least 33 people and leaving about 7.5 million people without power on the US East Coast.

Even as it was downgraded to a storm, Sandy knocked power out of a large swath of Manhattan in the financial district of New York, a city that never sleeps, according to various media reports.

Streets were littered with debris and buildings damaged. Seven subway tunnels under the East River were flooded. While several bridges over the East River were set to reopen, other mass transit service, including commuter rails, was still suspended.

Swirling water formed white-capped cascades in the Ground Zero construction zone where the twin towers destroyed in the Sep 11, 2001 terrorist attack once stood.

A fire destroyed 80 to 100 houses in the flooded Rockaway peninsula of Queens, where a large Indian community lives, forcing the rescue of about 25 people from an upstairs apartment. Firefighters were still battling the blazes Tuesday morning.

The storm claimed at least 10 lives in New York City, “and tragically we expect that number to go up”, Mayor Michael Bloomberg told a news conference.

Photo courtesy: NY Governor Andrew M. Cuomo

“The damage we suffered across the city is clearly extensive, and it will not be repaired overnight,” he said. All New York area airports are still shut down and public transportation closed.

“The level of devastation at the Jersey Shore is unthinkable,” Governor Chris Christie of neighbouring New Jersey told reporters with 2.4 million households in the state without power – twice the number that lost electricity during Hurricane Irene that struck in August 2011.

“It is beyond anything I thought I’d ever see,” Christie said of the damage to his state. “Terrible…. No question in my mind, the devastation that happened to New Jersey is beyond what happened to anyone else” from Sandy.

But Christie, a Republican, told CNN he was confident that power would be restored in time for next Tuesday’s election but played down the issue’s importance.

“I spoke to the president three times yesterday,” Christie said. “He’s been incredibly supportive and helpful to our state and not once did he bring up the election…. If he’s not bringing it up, I’m certainly not going to bring it up.”

The storm shut or slowed a half dozen nuclear power plants and America’s oldest facility, the Oyster Creek nuclear plant in New Jersey, was placed on “alert” status after floodwaters jeopardised a key cooling system, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission said.

US stock markets remained closed for a second day Tuesday. It was the first time that the New York Stock Exchange was closed for two straight days because of weather since a major blizzard struck the city in 1888.

Federal government offices also remained closed for most employees, most schools, colleges and universities shut their doors for another day and Amtrak cancelled Northeast service.

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