Hurricane Sandy sent floodwater gushing into New York’s five boroughs, submerging cars, tunnels and the subway system and plunging skyscrapers and neighborhoods into darkness.
The storm shaped up to be among the worst in city history, rivaling the blizzards of 1888 and 1947. Two deaths were reported in Queens and more than 670,000 were without power in the region as of 11:30 p.m. local time yesterday, according to Consolidated Edison Inc. The company cut electricity to some areas to save its equipment and a transformer exploded at a plant on 14th Street, blacking out others. New York University evacuated its Langone Medical Center when it went dark and backup systems failed.
“We knew that this was going to be a very dangerous storm and the storm has met our expectations,” said Mayor Michael Bloomberg at a news briefing. “The worst of the weather has come and the city certainly is feeling the impacts.”
After the storm’s tide crested about 8 p.m., the East River topped its seawall in the Financial District and flowed up Wall Street in a torrent that turned avenues into canals and intersections into lakes. Flooding took over Brooklyn’s Red Hook neighborhood, submerging cars to the roof, while the Gowanus Canal overflowed and tree limbs plummeted. A downed power line sparked a fire in the beachfront Queens neighborhood of the Rockaways and the sea topped Coney Island’s boardwalk.
“This will be the largest storm-related outage in our history,” said John Miksad, Consolidated Edison’s senior vice president for electric operations. The previous record was during Hurricane Irene last year, with about 200,000 New York City outages, he said.
A flood gauge at Battery Park, at the southernmost end of Manhattan, registered at 13.88 feet as of 9:24 p.m., beating the modern record of 10.02 feet in September 1960 during Hurricane Donna, the National Weather Service said.
“See that Beemer over there?” said Brandon Michon, 26, who works at the private banking unit of JPMorgan Chase & Co., as he pointed to the roof of a white BMW nearly underwater at the corner of Water and Old Smith Streets. “Ten minutes ago, the water was up to its tires.”
Manhattan’s Lower East Side was littered with downed store signs and metal scrap ripped from buildings, and the alarm systems of submerged cars honked and beeped. Police in cars and on foot were in Red Hook’s evacuation zones in Brooklyn telling people to leave their houses and apartments. A few blocks from the shore line, a man tried and failed to start his car with the water already up to the windows.
“We’ve never seen this before,” said Dave Lutz, a 20-year resident of Red Hook, watching water envelop the roof of a car down Van Brunt Street.
The runways became waterways at New York’s three airports, which make up the nation’s busiest air-travel market, said Steve Coleman, a spokesman for the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.
The Metropolitan Transportation Authority was investigating water entering a subway tunnel in Lower Manhattan, said Charles Seaton, spokesman for the largest U.S. transit agency, which stopped its 24-hour system for weather for only the second time in its 108-year history. There’s no way to tell when the system run again, he said.
Floodwater presents a “significant threat” to tunnels that cross under the East and Harlem rivers and to restoration of service, officials said. Station entrances and sidewalk vent gratings in low-lying areas were covered with plywood and reinforced with sandbags, said Kevin Ortiz, a spokesman.
Water may wreck MTA electrical and communication systems, said Charles Watson, director of research and development at Silver Spring, Maryland-based Kinetic Analysis Corp.
“Once a piece of electrical equipment is exposed to saltwater, it’s essentially ruined,” he said.
Manhattan came the closest to becoming a true island since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, after officials blocked the majority of 11 major crossings into the borough.
The Lincoln Tunnel was the only major crossing in and out of Manhattan by about 8:30 p.m. The Brooklyn Battery Tunnel and the Queens Midtown Tunnel both had flooding, according to Ortiz.
As of 9:15 p.m. there were two fatalities in Queens. A man died when a tree fell on his house, and a woman was electrocuted when she stepped in a puddle that obscured a live wire, said Detective Kellyann Ort, a spokeswoman for the New York Police Department.
Earlier, winds caused the partial collapse of a crane attached to a luxury tower on West 57th Street in Manhattan, and sheared off the side of a building in Chelsea, leaving apartments exposed to the elements, beds and pictures still arranged just so.
In an evening press briefing, the mayor, who is founder and majority owner of Bloomberg News parent Bloomberg LP, said he expected the worst would be over by today. More than 3,600 people were in shelters, he said.
The city was helping to move NYU patients, he said.
Eric Spiak, 48, a Lower Manhattan resident who said he works at Deutsche Bank AG, said he moved from Florida a year ago, where he lived through tropical cyclones including Hurricane Andrew in 1992, one of the costliest in U.S. history.
“This is going to be a real mess to clean up,” he said.