Though no longer a hurricane, "post-tropical" superstorm Sandy packed a hurricane-sized punch as it slammed into the Jersey Shore on Monday, killing at least 10 people from West Virginia to North Carolina and Connecticut.
Sandy whipped torrents of water over the streets of Atlantic City, stretching for blocks inland and ripping up part of the vacation spot's fabled boardwalk.
The storm surge set records in Lower Manhattan, where flooded substations caused a widespread power outage. It swamped beachfronts on both sides of Long Island Sound and delivered hurricane-force winds from Virginia to Cape Cod as it came ashore.
The storm hit near Atlantic City about 8 p.m. ET, the National Hurricane Center reported. It packed 80-mph winds at landfall, down from the 90 mph clocked earlier Monday.
"I've been down here for about 16 years, and it's shocking what I'm looking at now. It's unbelievable," said Montgomery Dahm, owner of the Tun Tavern in Atlantic City, which stayed open as Sandy neared the Jersey Shore. "I mean, there's cars that are just completely underwater in some of the places I would never believe that there would be water."
Dahm's family cleared out of Atlantic City before the storm hit, but he says he stayed put to serve emergency personnel. At nightfall Monday, he said the water was lapping at the steps of his restaurant, where a generator was keeping the lights on. The storm had already knocked down power lines and tree limbs while still 50 miles offshore and washed out a section of the boardwalk on the north end of town, Atlantic City Mayor Lorenzo Langford told CNN. He said there were still "too many people" who didn't heed instructions to evacuate, and he urged anyone still in town to "hunker down and try to wait this thing out."
"When Mother Nature sends her wrath your way, we're at her mercy, and so all we can do is stay prayerful and do the best that we can," Langford said.
And in Seaside Heights, about 30 miles north of Atlantic City, Police Chief Thomas Boyd told CNN, "The whole north side of my town is totally under water." Mass transit grinds to a halt In New York, lower Manhattan's Battery Park recorded nearly 14-foot tide, smashing a record set by 1960's Hurricane Donna by more than 3 feet. The city had already halted service on its bus and train lines, closing schools and ordering about 400,000 people out of their homes in low-lying areas of Manhattan and elsewhere.
Flooding forced the closure of all three of the major airports in the area, LaGuardia, John F. Kennedy and Newark Liberty. Water seeped into subway stations in Lower Manhattan and into the tunnel connecting Lower Manhattan and Brooklyn, while high winds damaged a crane perched atop a Midtown skyscraper under construction, forcing authorities to evacuate the surrounding area.
The storm was blamed for lamed for more than 2.8 million outages across the Northeast. About 350,000 of them were in the New York city area, where local utility Con Edison reported it had also cut power to customers in parts of Brooklyn and Lower Manhattan to protect underground equipment as the storm waters rose. But as water crept into its substations, Con Ed said it had lost service to about 250,000 customers in lower Manhattan -- most of the island south of 39th Street.
Five things to know about Sandy. At least five people had been killed in storm-related incidents in New York state, including three killed by trees falling on homes in Queens and in the town of New Salem, near Albany, city and state officials said. Falling trees were also blamed for the two deaths reported in New Jersey and one in Connecticut, authorities there told CNN. And in West Virginia, a woman was killed in a car accident after the storm dumped 5 inches of snow on the town of Davis, said Amy Shuler Goodwin, a spokeswoman for Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin's office.
Sandy had already claimed at least 67 lives in the Caribbean, including 51 in Haiti. And before hitting land, it overwhelmed the sailing ship HMS Bounty, a replica of the historic British vessel, off North Carolina. Fourteen of the ship's crew of 16 were rescued, but the body of one deckhand was found Monday evening and the ship's captain was still missing Monday night, the Coast Guard said. Sandy's expected storm surge could raise water levels to 11 feet above normal high tide, already the highest of the month because of a full moon. And forecasters said Sandy was likely to collide with a cold front and spawn a superstorm that could generate flash floods and snowstorms.
"It could be bad," said U.S. Coast Guard Rear Adm. Steven Rattior, "or it could be devastation." Mass transit shut down across the densely populated Northeast, landmarks stood empty and schools and government offices were closed. The National Grid, which provides power to millions of customers, said 60 million people could be affected before it's over.
On Fire Island, off Long Island, the water rose above promenades and docks on Monday afternoon, homeowner Karen
Boss said. Boss stayed on the island with her husband despite a mandatory evacuation order. She said they own several properties and a business there and had weathered previous storms. "I'm concerned that it might come into the first floor," she said. "If that's the case, I'll just move into another house that's higher up."
Based on pressure readings, it's likely to be the strongest storm to make landfall north of Cape Hatteras, North Carolina, CNN senior meteorologist Dave Hennen said. The benchmark storm, the 1938 "Long Island Express" Hurricane, contained a low pressure reading of 946 millibars; Sandy had a minimum pressure of 943 millibars.
Generally speaking, the lower the pressure, the stronger the storm. In Sea Bright, New Jersey, Yvette Cafaro scrawled a plea on the plywood that covered her burger restaurant: "Be kind to us Sandy." The seaside area largely dodged last year's Hurricane Irene, but Cafaro was not optimistic that Sea Bright would be spared Sandy. "Everything that we've been watching on the news looks like this one will really get us," she said. "We're definitely worried about it." Its arrival, eight days before the U.S. presidential election, forced President Barack Obama and his Republican challenger, Mitt Romney, to alter or cancel several campaign stops.
Obama flew back to Washington from Florida, telling reporters at the White House that assets were in place for an effective response to the storm. "The most important message I have for the public right now is please listen to what your state and local officials are saying," Obama said. "When they tell you to evacuate, you need to evacuate." And in Ohio, Romney asked supporters to drop off items and cash at his "victory centers" to be donated to victims of the storm. "There are families in harm's way that will be hurt -- either in their possessions or perhaps in something more severe," Romney said.
By Monday afternoon, 23 states were under a warning or advisory for wind related to Sandy. Thousands of flights had been canceled, and hundreds of roads and highways were expected to flood. And according to a government model, Sandy's wind damage alone could cause more than $7 billion in economic loss.
Sandy was expected to weaken once it moves inland, but the center was expected to move slowly northward, meaning gusty winds and heavy rain would continue through Wednesday. On the western side of the storm, the mountains of West Virginia expected up to 3 feet of snow and the mountains of southwestern Virginia to the Kentucky state line could see up to 2 feet.
Twelve to 18 inches of snow were expected in the mountains near the North Carolina-Tennessee border. "This is not a typical storm," said Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett. "Essentially, this is a hurricane wrapped in a 'nor'easter.'"
CNN's Dana Ford, Tom Watkins, Josh Levs, Chelsea J. Carter, Greg Botelho, Jason Kessler, Sarah Dillingham, Sean Morris, Ashley Corum and George Howell contributed to this report.
Officials across the Eastern Seaboard had implored residents over the weekend to evacuate, emphasizing that authorities could be endangered if they tried to save them. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie put it bluntly: "Don't be stupid. Get out!"
Hundreds of thousands of people have abandoned their homes. New York City landmarks are eerily empty. The nation's capital is emptied of government workers. Much of the region was settling into paralysis, bracing for what's to come.
From North Carolina to Maine, forecasters said Sandy was likely to collide with a cold front and spawn a "superstorm" that could generate flash floods, snowstorms and massive power outages.
The National Grid, which provides power to millions of customers, said 60 million people could be affected -- up from its previous estimate of 50 million.
"It could be bad," said U.S. Coast Guard Rear Adm. Steven Rattior, "or it could be devastation."
The impact goes beyond the East Coast. Wave heights in Lake Michigan could reach 28 feet Monday night and 31 feet by Tuesday, the National Weather Service said.
Eight days before Election Day, President Obama and his challenger Mitt Romney have canceled or changed planned campaign events because of the storm.
Obama returned Monday from a canceled campaign event in Orlando to Washington, where he went directly into a briefing, the White House said. He was to deliver a statement on Sandy at 12:45 p.m.
Sandy has already claimed at least 67 lives -- 51 in Haiti -- on its path last week across the Caribbean.
In the United States, federal, state and local officials have been working to convince those in vulnerable areas that Sandy is dangerous.
"My biggest concern is just people not taking it seriously and not taking the proper precautions," Newark Mayor Cory Booker told CNN early Monday. "We still have some time for people to get ready. ... We anticipate there could be many days without power afterward."
On Monday, Sandy started to turn toward the United States, putting it on course
for landfall late Monday or early Tuesday.
At 11 a.m., the Category 1 hurricane was 205 miles southeast of Atlantic City, New Jersey, and 260 miles south-southeast of New York City, the National Hurricane Center said. Maximum sustained winds were 90 mph, and Sandy was moving north-northwest at 18 mph.
Hurricane-force winds extended outward 175 miles from the storm's center, and tropical storm-force winds reached 485 miles.
It was predicted to turn toward the northwest soon, and turn toward the west-northwest Monday night. Its center was expected to make landfall along or just south of the coast of New Jersey on Monday evening or Monday night.
Gale-force winds were already occurring over parts of the Mid-Atlantic states -- from North Carolina up to New York's Long Island. The winds were expected to spread later in the day over more of the Mid-Atlantic coast, New York City and southern New England.
Storm surge -- the combination of a storm and a high tide -- "will cause normally dry areas near the coast to be flooded," the weather service said. It said water depths could reach 6 to 11 feet along Long Island Sound and New York Harbor.
"Elevated waters could occur far removed from the center of Sandy," it added.
Three to 6 inches of rain were expected over far northeastern North Carolina, with isolated maximum totals of 8 inches possible, it said.
Four to eight inches of rain were expected over portions of the Mid-Atlantic states, with isolated amounts of 12 inches possible.
Two to 3 feet of snow were expected to accumulate in the mountains of West Virginia and 1 to 2 feet in the mountains of southwestern Virginia to the border with Kentucky. One to one-and-a-half feet of snow were expected in the mountains near the North Carolina-Tennessee border.
But even with Sandy hundreds of miles offshore, officials were warning of its life-threatening storm surge flooding portions of the Mid-Atlantic, including low-lying areas of New York and New Jersey.
Michelle Franchaise of Ocean Gate was among the tens of thousands of New Jersey residents ordered to leave their coastal communities Sunday.
She and more than 180 others hunkered down at an emergency shelter in Toms River, New Jersey, to ride out the storm. She selected one of the 250 green cots that lined the floor.
"I'm very concerned when I see the map, and I see how big it is," she said. "I think I'm in good hands here. I think I'm safe."
At least 60 people at the Toms River shelter took their pets with them.
"The cops came around and were like, 'If you don't leave, you're going to be arrested,' " said a woman as she cradled one of the four kittens she had taken with her. "I couldn't leave without them."
Bracing for the worst
By early Monday, the city that never sleeps bedded down after halting service on its bus and train lines, closing schools and ordering about 400,000 people out of their homes in low-lying areas of Manhattan and elsewhere.
The process of halting subway service in New York began Sunday night. Other mass transit systems suspended their services Monday, including Washington's Metro service and Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority trains and buses in and around Philadelphia.
In Sea Bright, New Jersey, Yvette Cafaro scrawled a plea on the plywood that covered her burger restaurant: "Be kind to us Sandy."
The seaside area largely dodged last year's Hurricane Irene, and Cafaro is hoping for another reprieve, but not optimistic.
"Everything that we've been watching on the news looks like this one will really get us," she said. "We're definitely worried about it."
After filling his trunk with sandbags Sunday in Cranston, Rhode Island, resident Steve Pacheco said he had done what he could by clearing Halloween decorations and other items from his yard. Still, he said, he was nervous.
"I don't want to go through this again," Pacheco told CNN affiliate WPRI-TV in Providence.
The estimated cost of potential wind damage alone is estimated at $2.5 billion to $3 billion, the Federal Emergency Management Agency said.
That estimate doesn't include potential flooding and other damage, though the federal government has preemptively declared states of emergency in a number of locales to help states cope with Sandy and its aftermath.
Classes, trading and campaigning canceled
Officials canceled classes Monday for more than 2 million public school students in districts such as New York, Philadelphia, Boston and Baltimore, while numerous universities and federal offices in Washington and government offices in states like New Jersey were closed.
The U.S. stock exchanges were closed Monday and may remain closed Tuesday.
The last time the New York Stock Exchange closed for a weather event was in 1985, during Hurricane Gloria. And in 1969, a snowstorm also brought the exchange to a halt.
Sandy has even managed to put the presidential election on the back burner, turning campaign plans upside down.
Politicos from both sides said it was still too early to tell
what effect the storm would have on the presidential race, though access to voting centers would be a concern if the storm's effects persist until Election Day.
"I don't think anybody really knows," top Obama adviser David Axelrod said Sunday on CNN's "State of the Union."
"Obviously, we want unfettered access to the polls because we believe that the more people come out, the better we're going to do, and so, to the extent that it makes it harder, you know, that's a source of concern."
Virginia's Republican governor said Sunday that his state would take measures to ensure residents are able to vote despite obstacles the storm might bring.
Then there are the travel nightmares related to the storm -- thousands of flights have been canceled, Amtrak train runs scuttled and hundreds of roads and highways expected to flood.
"This is not a typical storm. It could very well be historic in nature and in scope and in magnitude because of the widespread anticipated power outages, flooding and potential major wind damage," Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett said.
"Essentially, this is a hurricane wrapped in a nor'easter."
CNN's Greg Botelho, Michael Holmes, Jareen Iman, Alison Kosik, Sarah Dillingham, Brandon Miller, George Howell, Athena Jones, Shawn Nottingham and Devon Sayers contributed to this report.