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Sandy Deals New York City Flooding, Fire And Blackouts

In New York City's financial district, cars floated in a flooded subterranean basement a day after Hurricane Sandy tore across the East Coast.
Andrew Burton
Getty Images
In New York City's financial district, cars floated in a flooded subterranean basement a day after Hurricane Sandy tore across the East Coast.

People across the New York metropolitan area confronted scenes of devastation from Superstorm Sandy on Tuesday: widespread flooding, power and transportation outages and a wind-swept fire that tore through dozens of houses in the borough of Queens.

At least 33 deaths in eight states were reported as Sandy pummeled the East Coast with 80 mph winds and severed power to more than 8.1 million customers, according to The Associated Press. Late this morning, Mayor Michael Bloomberg said there had been at least 10 fatalities in his city and that he expected there would be more reported.

Consolidated Edison reported that 670,000 people in and around New York City had no electricity.

Bob McGee, a Con Edison utility official, said that below 39th Street, an area just a few blocks south of Times Square, the city was dark.

Driving through lower Manhattan, NPR's Robert Smith said that south of 30th Street, it was "a little terrifying."

"A huge swath of this island has no power," he added. "A few skyscrapers have power, but other than that, it is just black."

Smith said some of the power was off as a preventative measure to save infrastructure. In other places, damage to the system from wind and water caused the local grid to collapse.

He reported standing water in intersections and in subway and commuter tunnels, which hobbled the city's transportation system.

"We're not sure where the water stands right now," Smith said. "At one point, there was 11 feet of water in the Brooklyn Battery tunnel. ... I don't know where the water is right now, but [the tunnel] is impassable."

The head of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, Joseph Lhota, said at least seven subway tunnels were impassable. "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," he said in a statement early Tuesday.

New York University's Langone Medical Center was forced to evacuate more than 200 patients, including 20 babies in neonatal intensive care, after the backup generator failed, according to The Associated Press.

As Hurricane Sandy headed ashore, where it became an extra-tropical storm, it created a record-breaking 13-foot storm surge, filling low-lying areas with several feet of water.

Steve Nessen of member station WNYC in New York (which is live blogging here) reported that the Coney Island area was devastated.

"It looks like water came up to the street level," Nessen said. "The roads are flooded; cars have washed up into the middle of the road. There's a lot of debris and it smells like gasoline.

"Most of the homes off the famous Coney Island boardwalk, the first floors are flooded," he added. "The mayor told everyone to leave, but people thought they'd lived here for years and didn't expect it would get this bad."

Meanwhile, in Queens, at least 50 homes were gutted by a fire spurred on by the storm's high winds.

According to the AP:

More than 190 firefighters were trying to contain the blaze in the Breezy Point section and two people suffered minor injuries, a fire department spokesman said.

The fire was reported around 11 p.m. Monday in an area flooded by the superstorm that began sweeping through the city earlier, officials said.

Firefighters told WABC-TV that the water was chest high on the street, and they had to use a boat to make rescues. They said in one apartment home, about 25 people were trapped in an upstairs unit, and the two-story home next door was ablaze and setting fire to the apartment's roof. Firefighters climbed an awning to get to the trapped people and took them downstairs to a boat in the street.

Update at 11:20 a.m. ET. 10 Deaths In New York City, More Expected:

At least 10 people were killed in Sandy-related incidents, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg just told reporters. He expects that more deaths will be reported.

According to the mayor, at least 23 major fires broke out during the storm. The biggest challenges facing the city now, he said, are restoring the city's mass transit system and restoring the city's power. About 750,000 customers are without power in the city, Bloomberg added.

The city's subway system, he said, has suffered its worst disaster in the 108 years it's been operating. And the Con Edison power utility tells him the damage to its system is unprecedented. It will be days, at least, before both systems are up and running again.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Scott Neuman is a reporter and editor, working mainly on breaking news for NPR's digital and radio platforms.