Governors, mayors and millions of Americans on the East Coast braced for a "superstorm" of unprecedented strength — and it delivered.
Sweeping from Manhattan to Milwaukee, the storm system that began as Hurricane Sandy had killed at least 40 people by late Tuesday, many of them victims of falling trees, after marching from the Caribbean to its landfall along the New Jersey coastline. While New York City was left dumbstruck by record storm surges in Battery Park, officials in less-affected states gave thanks after the tempest cut its swath from the Carolinas to Maine.
The full extent of the damage to the Garden State, where the storm roared ashore Monday night with hurricane force, was unclear, but some projections put the cost upward of $50 billion in property damage and lost business across a third of the country.
Police and fire officials, some with their own departments flooded, fanned out to rescue hundreds.
"The devastation on the Jersey Shore is some of the worst we've ever seen," Gov. Chris Christie said. "The cost of the storm is incalculable at this point."
New York City Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg said it could be several days before the lights come on for hundreds of thousands of people in darkness. It could be four or five days before the city's subway system, which sustained the worst damage in its 108-year history, is running again.
The National Weather Service said a foot and more of snow was reported in lower elevations of West Virginia, where most towns and roads are located. In Maryland, residents were spared the brunt of the storm but felt the effects of hurricane-force winds on its eastern shores and risked being stranded on snow-covered highways in its westernmost counties. The nation's capital had its share of downed trees and the Potomac River rose to worrisome levels in Georgetown, but local officials said things could have been much worse.
Based on the extent of the damage from the storm, President Obama verbally declared New York and New Jersey major disasters as the storm struck on Monday night, allowing both states access to more federal assistance in recovery efforts.
Federal Emergency Management Agency Administrator Craig Fugate said the generosity of some governors surprised him.
"Governors are saying, 'We're not that bad. We're offering up help to the states that were harder hit,'" Mr. Fugate said.
National Hurricane Center Director Rick Knabb said the storm was centered over western Pennsylvania as of Tuesday afternoon, still bringing strong winds, rain, snow and potential flooding to the northeast United States — though not as much as earlier this week.
"I don't want anyone to think the event is anywhere near over in terms of the weather," Mr. Knabb said. "We still could have some areas of flash flooding or coastal flooding."
While areas in the Midwest braced for high winds from the megastorm's late-stage punch, areas along the Eastern Seaboard took stock of the devastation at shore towns, inland communities and densely populated cities.
In lower Manhattan, the financial center of the U.S. was among the hardest-hit areas after the storm sent a nearly 14-foot surge of seawater, a record, coursing over its seawalls and highways and into low-lying streets. Water cascaded into the gaping, unfinished construction pit at the World Trade Center, and the New York Stock Exchange was closed for a second day, the first time that has happened because of weather in more than a century.
"So clearly the challenges our city faces in the coming days are enormous," Mr. Bloomberg said in a news conference. Even before noon, the mayor announced that city schools would be closed again Wednesday.
The picture was much rosier in the nation's capital, where federal and city government offices and D.C. Public Schools prepared to reopen after staying dark for two days.
"Thankfully, it turned out a whole lot better than we expected in the District of Columbia," Mayor Vincent C. Gray said at a news conference, while expressing his concern for the people of New Jersey and New York.
Mr. Gray, a Democrat, praised Mr. Obama for his pledge to assist the District — and other jurisdictions coping with the storm's aftermath — during a morning conference call with governors and mayors.
"He said, 'I'm going to cut through all the red tape and all the bureaucracy so that we can get this done,'" Mr. Gray said.
The massive Metro transit system that serves the District and surrounding counties in Maryland and Virginia resumed with limited service at 2 p.m. Tuesday after a rare closure Monday. The system planned to restore its full weekday service in time for the Wednesday morning rush hour.
Uprooted trees and falling branches presented the greatest danger to city residents, although the storm did not cause any deaths or known injuries, the mayor said.
Tanya Topolewski of the Takoma neighborhood in Northwest said an approximately 40-foot-tall tree toppled onto her home. She evacuated herself and her 3-year-old son, and returned Tuesday morning to find that an 8-inch-thick branch had crushed the front end of her truck and broken her windshield.
"I was making chicken, listening to the wind and trying to keep my hand's busy," she said of the moments just before the horrendous crash made it apparent that something had landed on her roof.
Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley called on residents to remain cautious for the next few days as crews assess damage and restore power.
Mr. O'Malley said two deaths had been reported in his state, but most residents have managed to stay out of harm's way.
"It's clear that we were fortunate to have been on the weaker side of this storm," he said. "But we also prepared for the worst, and the people of Maryland really rose to the occasion."
A man was killed Monday night in Linthicum after a tree fell on his home, the governor said.
In Virginia, Gov. Bob McDonnell said Tuesday the commonwealth was "very blessed" that the damage was not as extensive as in places such as New Jersey and New York.
"We are in the recovery period now in Virginia," Mr. McDonnell said at a Tuesday news conference.
He participated in the conference call with Mr. Obama, who granted his request for an expedited federal emergency declaration for the state.
"When you have natural disasters, partisanship goes out the window," Mr. McDonnell said. "Nobody's concerned about politics when it comes to the weather."
• Megan Poinski and Andrea Noble contributed to this article, which is based in part on wire service reports.
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Tom Howell Jr. covers politics for The Washington Times. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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