Hurricane Sandy, which earlier killed 69 people in the Caribbean, most of them in Haiti, has now claimed more than 100 lives. President Barack Obama, on a visit to the headquarters of the Red Cross on Tuesday afternoon, warned of further damage yet to come.
He described the destruction and loss of lives as "heartbreaking for the nation" and warned of the continuing risks of flooding and downed power lines. "This storm is not yet over," he said.
The White House announced that Obama will travel to New Jersey on Wednesday to inspect the storm damage with Governor Christie. He is due to meet people recovering from the storm as well as members of the emergency services involved in the rescue operation.
The massive storm, the result of hurricane Sandy merging with two other weather systems, moved westward on Tuesday across Pennsylvania with winds measured at 45mph.
Millions of people up and down the Atlantic coast were left struggling to repair the damage left in its wake. Among the worst hit areas were New Jersey, where the storm first made landfall, causing widespread flooding that carried railway cars and boat onto roads, and Queens, where a fire at Breezy Point destroyed 80 homes. In New York City, where 18 people died, the subway system could remain shut for days.
The New Jersey National Guard arrived in Hoboken on Tuesday night to help residents of the heavily flooded city on the Hudson River across from New York City. Officials said guard members would use high-wheeled vehicles to assist in evacuating residents and delivering supplies to flooded areas in the mile-square city.
Hoboken was hard hit by superstorm Sandy, which flooded roughly half the town. The mayor, Dawn Zimmer, had asked for the guard's help late Monday, noting that many residents were stuck in their homes due to the floods, which also hampered emergency response. Reports said 20,000 people remained stranded by flooding on Tuesday night.
As the storm – which was reclassified from a hurricane shortly before making landfall on Monday near Atlantic City, New Jersey – continued inland with weakened but still powerful winds. Obama declared a "major disaster" in the New York City area, a move designed to free up federal aid for inhabitants.
Obama held a video-teleconference from the situation room of the White House with members of his cabinet and the emergency services to ensure not only that rescue and relief operations are well under way but to speed up efforts to restore power.
A White House statement said: "The president told his team that their top priority is to make sure all available resources are being provided to state and local responders as quickly as possible."
New Jersey governor Chris Christie during a press conference this morning called the level of devastation "unthinkable".
"This is beyond anything I ever thought I would see," he said.
More than 2 million people are without power, mass transit is at a standstill, roads and bridges closed amid severe damage, 29 hospitals are running on generators or experiencing power issues. About 5,500 people are in shelters and the weather is still so bad that it is difficult to assess the full extent of the damage.
Three towns in Jersey, just west of NYC, were inundated with up to 5ft of water when the Hackensack river flooded and the National Guard rescued marooned residents of Moonachie, Little Ferry and Carlstadt.
He warned people to stay away from the state's notorious Jersey shore, much of which has been washed away. "The amusement pier at Seaside Park is essentially half washed out. I don't know if it's the rollercoaster or the log flume that is now in the ocean," he said.
Christie said railroad cars had been washed onto roads, while one resident said he had seen boats block from the ocean.
Peter Sandomeno, owner of the Broadway Court motel in Point Pleasant Beach, New Jersey, said: "There are boats in the street five blocks from the ocean. That's the worst storm I've ever seen, and I've been there for 11 years."
In New York, the death toll in the city from storm has now reached 18, according to Michael Bloomberg, the city's mayor.
Those who died include an off-duty police officer, who drowned after rescuing his family, a man who died after a tree fell into his home and a woman who was was killed after stepping on a live electrical wire outside her home.
NYPD commissioner Ray Kelly said the officer, who has not been named, had just taken family up to the attic and had returned to the basement, where he drowned.
As the huge operation to clean up began, estimates of how long it might take were cautious. But in New York, Bloomberg said that the recovery plan was already underway.
At a press conference at shortly before 6pm on Tuesday, Bloomberg said: "We're at the beginning of a process that we all know will take a while, but this is the end of the downside. And hopefully from here it's going up."
Bloomberg said it could be three days or more before power is restored to hundreds of thousands of people, and the crippled subway service was unlikely to resume for four or five days. Schools throughout New York city would remain closed on Wednesday, he said.
However, he said that buses might be able to run from 5pm on Tuesday. Earlier, the chairman of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA), Joseph J Lhota, said Sandy had been the most destructive storm in the subway network's 108-year history. Lhota said the challenge is now one of "assessment, inspection, repair, and restoration" which would not be a short process.
Some of the tunnels connecting Manhattan with other areas remained flooded, including the Brooklyn-Battery tunnel. Path trains, which connect New Jersey and New York, could be out for seven to 10 days according to Christie.
The New York Stock Exchange said in a statement it would reopen for regular trading on Wednesday after being shut down for two days because of hurricane Sandy. Tuesday was the first time since 1888 that the NYSE remained closed for two days, the last time due to a massive snow storm. The NYSE was not damaged by Sandy, although false rumours to the contrary were spread on Twitter. The exchange said it was "fully operational" after a full day of testing its systems.
LaGuardia airport was expected to remain closed on Wednesday but JFK was planning to open.
A dramatic fire that destroyed at least 80 homes in Breezy Point, Queens, was still raging on Tuesday, while an unprecedented seawater surge of nearly 14ft left much of lower Manhattan flooded, including subway stations and the electrical system that powers Wall Street. The previous record had been set by hurricane Donna in 1960, which prompted a surge of 10ft.
"Hitting at high tide, the strongest surge and the strongest winds all hit at the worst possible time," Jeffrey Tongue, meteorologist for the weather service in Brookhaven, New York, told Reuters. "Hopefully it's a once-in-a-lifetime storm."
Winds as high as 90mph and sustained at 80mph were recorded as Sandy made landfall on the New Jersey coast around 8pm ET. Officials reportedly connected at least 33 deaths to the bad weather throughout the affected region, with fatalities reported chiefly in New York but also in New Jersey, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Massachusetts and West Virginia. Police in Toronto said a woman had been killed by flying debris.
Many of the deaths in New York were caused by falling trees and were expected to rise, said Bloomberg.
In the Caribbean, which Sandy had pummelled on its way to the US east coast, 69 people were reported to have died, most of them in Haiti.
As Sandy passed west from New Jersey across southern Pennsylvania on Tuesday, the National Hurricane Center said it was still reaching sustained winds of 65mph. The storm is expected to take a northwards path towards Canada later on Tuesday and heavy snowfall, alongside high winds, are expected in some states. Chicago officials warned residents to stay away from the shore of Lake Michigan amid fears of winds of up to 60mph and waves of more than 24ft.
According to the American Red Cross, nearly 11,000 people spent the night in 258 shelters across 16 states.
In New York, where nearly three-quarters of a million people were still without power at 11am on Tuesday morning, a major clean-up operation will be necessary to get the city back on its feet.
One of the most worrying events of Monday night was the emergency evacuation of 200 patients from New York University's Tisch hospital after the institution's backup generator failed. NYU's medical dean Robert Grossman told the Associated Press that among the people moved were 20 babies from the neo-natal intensive care unit who were on battery-powered respirators.
Television reporters described nurses carrying babies swaddled in blankets, their their respiratory tubes still attached, down nine flights of stairs from neo-natal intensive care to ambulances waiting to take them to other hospitals.
Sandy caused a levee to break in northern New Jersey on Tuesday, flooding the towns of Moonachie, Little Ferry and Carlstadt with up to 5ft of water.
Officials told Reuters there were no reports yet of fatalities. Writing on Twitter, Chris Christie said the cost of the storm was incalculable. "The devastation on the Jersey shore is some of the worst we've ever seen," he said. "The surge was so strong we have rail cars on the Jersey Turnpike this morning. New Jersey is a tough place … We will dig out from under and we will be back."
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