Water, fire and darkness: NYC after the superstorm

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NEW YORK (AP) — New York City awakened Tuesday to a flooded subway system, shuttered financial markets and hundreds of thousands of people without power a day after a wall of seawater and high winds slammed into the city, destroying buildings and flooding tunnels.

Scenes of the damage were everywhere. At least 50 flooded homes in Queens caught fire and were destroyed. A hospital removed patients on stretchers and 20 babies from neonatal intensive care, some on respirators operating on battery power.

Where usually bustling crowds and traffic jams streamed through sidewalks, streets and subways, they were largely empty. And high above midtown, the broken boom of a crane continued to dangle precariously over a neighborhood.

“We knew that this was going to be a very dangerous storm, and the storm has met our expectations,” Mayor Michael Bloomberg said. “This is a once-in-a-long-time storm.”

The storm was once Hurricane Sandy but combined with two wintry systems to become a huge hybrid storm whose center smashed ashore late Monday in New Jersey. New York City was perfectly positioned to absorb the worst of its storm surge — a record 13 feet.

This photo taken Tuesday, Oct. 30, 2012, shows what appear to be transformers exploding after much of lower Manhattan lost power during hurricane Sandy in New York. Much of New York was plunged into darkness Monday by a superstorm that overflowed the city's historic waterfront, flooded the financial district and subway tunnels and cut power to nearly a million people. (AP Photo/Karly Domb Sadof)

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This photo taken Tuesday, Oct. 30, 2012, shows what appear to be ... more >

Water lapped over the seawall in Battery Park City, 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.

In Queens, nearly 200 firefighters tried to contain an enormous blaze that consumed 50 homes in the Breezy Point neighborhood. They had to use a boat to make rescues, firefighters told WABC-TV. They climbed an awning to reach about 25 trapped people and take them down to a boat.

Officials weren’t immediately able to pin down the cause of the blaze.

The rains and howling winds left a crane hanging off a luxury high-rise in midtown Manhattan, causing the evacuation of hundreds from a posh hotel and other buildings. Inspectors were climbing 74 flights of stairs to examine the crane hanging from the $1.5 billion building.

After a backup generator failed, New York University’s Tisch Hospital began evacuating more than 200 patients to other facilities, including 20 babies from neonatal intensive care, some of them on respirators operating on battery power.

Without power, the hospital had no elevator service, meaning patients had to be carefully carried down staircases and outside into the weather. Gusts of wind blew their blankets as nurses held IVs and other equipment.

About 670,000 homes and businesses were without power late Monday in the city and suburban Westchester County.

“This will be one for the record books,” said John Miksad, senior vice president for electric operations at Consolidated Edison. “This will be the largest storm-related outage in our history.”

The facade of a four-story Manhattan building in the Chelsea neighborhood crumbled and collapsed suddenly, leaving the lights, couches, cabinets and desks inside visible from the street. No one was hurt, although some of the falling debris hit a car.

The city shut all three of its airports, its subways, schools, stock exchanges, Broadway theaters and closed several bridges and tunnels Monday as the weather worsened. By evening, a record 13-foot storm surge was threatening Manhattan’s southern tip and utilities deliberately darkened part of the borough to avoid storm damage.

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