People walk through water on the beach near the time of high tide as Hurricane… (Stan Honda / AFP/Getty Images )
PLEASANTVILLE, N.J. – Cyclone Sandy roared ashore Monday night with 80 mph winds in southern New Jersey, battering the most populous region of the United States, paralyzing epicenters of power and commerce, and plunging smaller coastal communities into crisis.
After days of dire warnings and bustling preparations, the storm crashed ashore a little after 8 p.m. EDT, leaving more than 3 million people without power and at least two people dead. Although its winds reached low hurricane strength, officials called it a post-tropical cyclone. Cyclones, unlike hurricanes, are not defined by wind speed but how they find their energy, officials said.
Moving northwest at 23 mph, Sandy appeared to pass over land just south of Atlantic City, N.J.
PHOTOS: Hurricane Sandy approaches
But the precise location of landfall didn’t matter. Sandy is a freak event — a late-season hurricane hemmed in by weather bands, gobbling up the energy of the Gulf Stream as it raked the coast while growing into a ragged, 1,000-mile-wide storm. As it grew, so did its power to push a wall of seawater onto shore — with such force that some rivers were expected to run backward.
The result was a plodding ogre of a storm, powerful more because of its scope than its strength. The metropolitan areas of Philadelphia, Baltimore and New York City were most immediately in the cross hairs, but Sandy cast tropical-storm-strength winds from the Carolinas to Maine. Hurricane-force winds stretched from Virginia to Massachussetts.
Because of its size, Sandy is more than a coastal event. Officials predicted a blizzard in the West Virginia mountains, 33-foot waves in Lake Michigan and high wind in Indiana. There were formal government warnings of one variety or another in 23 states, and 60 million people — nearly 1 in 5 Americans — might feel the storm before the end of the week.
MAP: Hurricane Sandy barrels in
Government officials implored the public to take precautions and heed evacuation orders.
“Don’t be stupid,” New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie told his constituents.
“There will be people who will die,” said Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley.
The normally by-the-books National Weather Service delivered this message to those who were resisting calls to evacuate: “THINK ABOUT YOUR LOVED ONES. … THINK ABOUT THE RESCUE/RECOVERY TEAMS WHO WILL RESCUE YOU IF YOU ARE INJURED OR RECOVER YOUR REMAINS IF YOU DO NOT SURVIVE.”
PHOTOS: Massive U.S. storms -- Frankenstorm, Snowpocalypse and more