People across the New York metropolitan area confronted scenes of devastation from superstorm Sandy early Tuesday: widespread flooding, power and transportation outages and a wind-swept fire that tore through dozens of houses in the borough of Queens.
At least 16 deaths in seven states were reported — including at least seven in New York — as Sandy pummeled the East Coast with 80 mph winds and severed power to more than 7.4 million people, according to The Associated Press. Consolidated Edison reported that 670,000 people in and around New York City had no electricity.
Bob McGee, a Con Edison utility official said that below 39th Street, an area just a few blocks south of Times Square, the city was dark.
Driving through lower Manhattan, NPR’s Robert Smith said that south of 30th Street, it was “a little terrifying.”
“A huge swath of this island has no power,” he added. “A few skyscrapers have power, but other than that, it is just black.”
Smith said some of the power was off as a preventative measure to save infrastructure. In other places, damage to the system from wind and water caused the local grid to collapse.
He reported standing water in intersections and in the subway and commuter tunnels.
“We’re not sure where the water stands right now,” Smith said. “At one point, there was 11 feet of water in the Brooklyn Battery tunnel. … I don’t know where the water is right now, but [the tunnel] is impassable.”
The head of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, Joseph Lhota, said at least seven subway tunnels were impassable. “The New York City subway system is 108 years old, but it has never faced a disaster as devastating as what we experienced last night,” he said in a statement early Tuesday.
New York University’s Langone Medical Center was forced to evacuate more than 200 patients, including 20 babies in neonatal intensive care, after the backup generator failed, according to The Associated Press.
As Hurricane Sandy headed ashore, where it became an extra-tropical storm, it created a record-breaking 13-foot storm surge, filling low-lying areas with several feet of water.
Steve Nessen of member station WNYC in New York reported that the Coney Island area was devastated.
“It looks like water came up to the street level,” Nessen said. “The roads are flooded; cars have washed up into the middle of the road. There’s a lot of debris and it smells like gasoline.
“Most of the homes off the famous Coney Island boardwalk, the first floors are flooded,” he added. “The mayor told everyone to leave, but people thought they’d lived here for years and didn’t expect it would get this bad.”
Meanwhile, in Queens, at least 50 homes were gutted by a fire spurred on by the storm’s high winds.
According to the AP:
More than 190 firefighters were trying to contain the blaze in the Breezy Point section and two people suffered minor injuries, a fire department spokesman said.
The fire was reported around 11 p.m. Monday in an area flooded by the superstorm that began sweeping through the city earlier, officials said.
Firefighters told WABC-TV that the water was chest high on the street, and they had to use a boat to make rescues. They said in one apartment home, about 25 people were trapped in an upstairs unit, and the two-story home next door was ablaze and setting fire to the apartment’s roof. Firefighters climbed an awning to get to the trapped people and took them downstairs to a boat in the street.