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Over a dozen dead, over 7 million without power as Sandy pummels the East Coast

 

Monster Storm Sandy slammed into the East Coast Monday, killing at least 16 people, hurling a record-breaking 13-foot surge of seawater at New York City and knocking out power to more than 7.5 million across the East Coast. 

The massive storm was downgraded from a hurricane after it barged ashore in southern New Jersey around 8:00 p.m., bringing more than 85-mph winds and a roiling wall of seawater as it moved through New York City. 

The 16 deaths were reported in New Jersey, New York, Maryland, North Carolina, West Virginia, Pennsylvania and Connecticut. Some of the victims were killed by falling trees. At least one death was blamed on the storm in Canada.

President Obama declared a major disaster in New York, Long Island, and New Jersey early Tuesday, making federal funding available to people in the area.

New York was among the hardest hit, with its financial heart closest for a second day and seawater cascading into the still-gaping construction pit at the World Trade Center. 

Water lapped over the seawall in Lower Manhattan , flooding rail yards, subway tracks, tunnels and roads. Rescue workers floated bright orange rafts down flooded downtown streets, while police officers rolled slowly down the street with loudspeakers telling people to go home.

New Jersey was also hit hard, with many residents of Atlantic City and other barrier island communities stranded by high floodwaters as of Monday night.

Most of Atlantic City was covered with water, as the storm brought together the bay and ocean in nearby Longport and flooded all three roads into and out of Ocean City. Flooding also was reported at PATH train stations in Hoboken and Jersey City.

Gov. Chris Christie gave a strong rebuke Monday to the people who chose to stay behind and to Atlantic City Mayor Lorenzo Langford for allowing residents to shelter in schools on the barrier island rather than move inland.

Christie, a Republican, called the Democratic mayor, whom he has criticized in the past, "a rogue mayor" who's "impossible to work with." The mayor didn't return messages seeking comment.

The power was out for hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers and an estimated more than 7.5 million altogether across the East, with the full extent of the storm's damage across the region unclear and unlikely to be known until daybreak.

The MTA cut power to some subway tunnels in lower Manhattan, after water came into the stations and tracks. The MTA said late Monday it is not yet sure how much damage had been done, and how much time it would take to restore everything to normal. Consolidated Edison was prompted to cut power to part of the area to avoid storm damage. 

New York University's Tisch Hospital was forced late Monday to evacuate 200 patients after its backup generator failed. NYU Medical Dean Robert Grossman said patients -- among them 20 babies from neonatal intensive care that were on battery-powered respirators -- had to be carried down staircases and to dozens of waiting ambulances.

The former hurricane, still a powerful, 900-mile-wide hybrid of several weather systems, is now considered an extratropical cyclone. It is forecast Tuesday to head across Pennsylvania before taking another sharp turn into western New York by Wednesday morning. 

Although weakening as it goes, the massive storm -- which caused wind warnings from Florida to Canada -- will continue to bring heavy rain and local flooding

"[It's a] very intense, very dangerous storm. People will die in this storm," Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley said Monday. "So folks will need to mind their families, stay home and hunker down."

The National Guard was deployed along the densely-populated Atlantic Coast, and airports shut down Monday afternoon as the massive system churned in from the sea. 

"People will die in this storm."

- Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley

Sandy has already been blamed for 69 deaths in the Caribbean before it began traveling northward, parallel to the Eastern Seaboard.

In Washington, President Obama urged the millions in Sandy’s path to heed warnings from local and state officials.

“When they tell you to evacuate, you need to evacuate,” Obama said. “Don't delay, don't pause, don't question the instructions that are being given because this is a powerful storm."

States of emergency were declared from North Carolina, where gusty winds whipped steady rain on Sunday, to Connecticut. Delaware ordered mandatory evacuations for coastal communities on Sunday, while Ocean City, Md., also was evacuated. 

Tens of thousands of people were ordered to evacuate in anticipation of the storm, including 375,000 in lower Manhattan and other parts of New York City. At least 50,000 were ordered to evacuate in Delaware alone and 30,000 in Atlantic City, N.J., where the city's 12 casinos were forced to shut down for only the fourth time in the 34-year history of legalized gambling there.

Airlines canceled more than 8,962 flights and Amtrak suspended passenger train service across the Northeast for Monday and Tuesday. 

New York and Philadelphia shut down their subways, buses and commuter trains Sunday night and announced that schools would be closed on Monday. Boston, Washington and Baltimore also called off school. In Washington and New Jersey, Metrorail and PATH train services were canceled.

In Connecticut, the number of power outages began climbing as the storm moved through the state. In New York City, 250,000 homes were reported to be without power. 

"We're looking at impact of greater than 50 to 60 million people," said Louis Uccellini, head of environmental prediction for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

An assistant manager at a Lowes store in Columbus, Ohio, told 10TV.com that people were calling in from West Virginia and Maryland to ask for supplies, and in northern Virginia, a cashier at Pitkins Ace Hardware in Dale City said batteries, flashlights and candles were flying off the shelves, PotomacLocal.com reports.

The storm even put Lady Liberty on hold.

The Statue of Liberty was scheduled to reopen Sunday to the public after a renovation project, but the monument will be closed Monday and Tuesday as Sandy passes through the area.

The danger of the storm is hardly limited to coastal areas. Forecasters were far more worried about inland flooding from storm surge than they were about winds. Rains could saturate the ground, causing trees to topple into power lines, utility officials said, warning residents to prepare for several days at home without power.

In North Carolina's Outer Banks, there was some scattered, minor flooding Sunday on the beach road in Nags Head. 

The Virginia National Guard was also authorized to call up to 500 troops to active duty for debris removal and road-clearing, while homeowners stacked sandbags at their front doors in coastal towns.

President Obama said the storm is "serious and big" and will be "slow moving," while he was at the headquarters of the Federal Emergency Management Agency to get an update on plans for responding to Hurricane Sandy.

The White House said in a news release that the president on Sunday signed the state of emergency declaration, which had been requested by Mayor Vincent Gray. It says federal aid should supplement the city's response efforts due to the emergency conditions.

The move follows the federal government's decision to close offices on Monday. The district's board of elections also announced it was suspending early voting on Monday. It has not been determined whether here will be early voting on Tuesday.

Obama nixed his participation in a campaign rally in Orlando on Monday and flew back to Washington to monitor the storm. The president has instructed his team to make sure that needed federal resources are in place to support state and local recovery efforts.

Mitt Romney canceled all his campaign events for Monday night and Tuesday due to the storm. The Supreme Court, meanwhile, announced in a rare move it would not convene on Tuesday. The court will hear Tuesday's arguments on Thursday. 

The Associated Press contributed to this report.