Swirling from the nation’s capital to New England, a hurricane-fueled superstorm struck the most populous region of the United States on Monday with the type of brute force that had been predicted for days, flooding roads and knocking out power to thousands in the D.C. region as top officials begged residents to respect nature’s wrath and seek shelter for themselves and their loved ones.
Hurricane Sandy collided with wintry air from the west and north to create a type of combination storm over the Eastern Seaboard, gaining strength in the process as about 50 million Americans prepared for its landfall and hoped for the best. With awesome force extending 1,000 miles from end to end, the tempest caused storm surges along coastal areas, inland zones feared falling trees and standing water, and heavy snow socked the Appalachian Mountains.
Densely populated areas from the Beltway to Boston quickly gave way to abandoned streets and shuttered stores, while some last-minute shoppers picked grocery shelves clean. More than 7,000 flights were grounded across the affected region, massive transit systems in the D.C. region and New York City locked their station doors, and schools and government offices planned to close again Tuesday.
The storm made landfall Monday night and was predicted to dump close to a foot of rain in the mid-Atlantic region and heavy snow in the mountains of West Virginia’s Eastern Panhandle by Tuesday night.
As of early Tuesday morning, at least 13 deaths were confirmed as a result of the storm. One was in Maryland, where Anne Arundel County fire officials say a man was killed when a tree fell on a house and trapped him in Pasadena. Anne Arundel County Division Chief Michael Cox said firefighters were called to the home at about 11 p.m. Monday. The male occupant was pronounced dead at the scene by fire personnel, Chief Cox said.
Howard County fire and rescue crews took three people from a North Laurel home to the hospital for carbon monoxide poisoning at about 4:45 a.m. Tuesday. The people were apparently running a generator inside their home, without proper ventilation.
In the Carolinas, the U.S. Coast Guard rescued 14 members by helicopter from the HMS Bounty, a replica 18th-century sailing ship that sank in the storm. The crew was forced to abandon the ship, which was built for the 1962 Marlon Brando film “Mutiny on the Bounty,” about 90 miles off the coast. The Coast Guard searched for two other crew members.
Farther north, the New York Stock Exchange was deserted and the storm’s projected path put New York City and Long Island in the danger zone for a huge surge of seawater made more fearsome by high tide and a full moon.
“This is the worst-case scenario,” said Louis Uccellini, environmental prediction chief for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
In a conference call, Mr. Uccellini added this is the only time he has seen a hurricane as strong as Sandy married with the type of heavy snowfall that areas in West Virginia and southwestern Virginia saw Monday.
Elected officials and forecasters said the storm’s effect could punish the region until Wednesday. Power crews, many of which traveled from Southern states less affected by the storm, cannot begin their work until conditions are safe, prompting some to worry whether Sandy’s aftermath will have an impact on the presidential election next week.
President Obama rushed out of the battleground state of Florida on Monday to return to Washington and oversee the storm response. He arrived just after 11 a.m. to huddle with top administration officials for a briefing on Hurricane Sandy’s progress and meet with Federal Emergency Management Agency Administrator Craig Fugate and other Cabinet members.
In a televised news conference, Mr. Obama implored citizens to listen to their state and local officials and dismissed talk of the storm’s potential impact on the Nov. 6 election.
“I’m worried about the impact on families and I’m worried about the impact on our first responders,” he said. “I’m worried about the impact on our economy and on transportation. The election will take care of itself next week.”
‘Very, very violent storm’