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Sandy's U.S. death toll reaches 48; 8 million without power

October 30, 2012|By Joseph Tanfani, David Zucchino and Scott Gold | This post has been updated, as indicated below.
  • Emergency vehicles in Queens, N.Y., fight through floodwaters to help evacuate residents.
Emergency vehicles in Queens, N.Y., fight through floodwaters to help… (Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles…)

BEACH HAVEN, N.J. — Hurricane Sandy’s departure from the Northeast on Tuesday brought no hint of relief, revealing instead a terrible tableau of splintered trees, severed beaches and shuttered businesses, and the harsh reality that the storm will test even the most hardened resolve in the weeks to come.

The storm’s U.S. death toll rose to least 48, including three children, and the property damage estimate rose to $20 billion. More than 8 million homes and businesses, from the tip of Maine to South Carolina, were without power, and some might not get it back for 10 days, officials said.

Inland, “thundersnow” blizzards buried more than half of West Virginia in as much as 2 feet of snow and the roofs of some houses began to collapse.

STATE BY STATE: Snow piles up, beaches wash away

In the tight-knit beach town of Breezy Point, N.Y., as many as 100 homes were destroyed in a ferocious electrical fire, injuring three people. Near Hackensack, N.J., authorities launched a frantic rescue effort after a flood spilled over a riverbank, rose to the bottom of stop signs in less than an hour and trapped scores of people.

Pockets of New York City, particularly Manhattan, remained crippled. The subway system, central to its role as an anchor of American finance and culture, was flooded and closed for a second day. The New York Stock Exchange was closed by weather for the second day in a row, for the first time since before the city was consolidated into five boroughs.

Authorities pledged a recovery and relief effort unprecedented in scope and cooperation. “No bureaucracy. No red tape,” said President Obama, who called off a third day of campaigning for next week’s election. “America is with you.”

VIDEOS: East Coast hit by deadly storm

The spirit was bearing fruit. Obama, for instance, unlocked federal money for New York and New Jersey with a major-disaster declaration, skipping the typical post-storm assessments and signing the paperwork Tuesday even as the tail end of Sandy remained overhead. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie said he asked Obama to speed up the declaration process “without all the normal FEMA mumbo-jumbo.”

And U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood announced he had made $13 million in quick-release emergency funds available to New York and Rhode Island — the first two states that asked for it — to begin repairing damage to roads, bridges and tunnels.

Despite the unified front, however, some areas bordered on desperation.

“Oh, my God! Oh, my God!” wailed Diane Vanderhorn, 46, after hiking back to Beach Haven, N.J., to find that her rented bungalow had flooded and that seawater had filled her sedan to the dashboard. “What am I going to do now?”

PHOTOS: Massive U.S. storms 

In Berkleley Heights, N.J., the power was out all day, except for a narrow strip of roadway that included Benham’s garage. The garage's gas pumps were running, but running low. A crush of cars and people, some toting red gasoline cans, lined up for the precious few remaining drops before Benham’s ran dry.

“We’re the only game in town, and we won’t last much longer,” said Bob Kaiser, a barrel-chested attendant clutching a wad of cash, as the last gasoline from one pump only half-filled a customer’s gas can.

Those who managed to reach the gas station had negotiated around fallen trees, downed power lines and flooded roads. They left behind darkened homes, a few of them crushed by falling trees. Roads were a jumble of yellow police tape, massive tree trunks and instant lakes of churning brown water that cut some towns in half.

Hundreds of people were out in the streets, in cars and on foot, searching for food, ice, water or gasoline. Police had cordoned off stretches of road blocked by fallen trees or snaking power lines, but some people ducked under the tape to take shortcuts.

At Benham’s garage, Kaiser said the station had 1,200 gallons of gasoline – more than two days’ normal supply – at 10 a.m. Tuesday. By 2:30, almost all of it was gone.

Carlos Chavarriaga, who lives a few miles away in North Plainfield, maneuvered around road closings to the Stop & Shop supermarket in Berkeley Heights. He was desperate for ice to keep perishable foods fresh at home, where his electricity had been out since Sandy roared through with 80-mph winds Monday night.

“We stocked up on food and ice, but ice only lasts so long,”’ Chavarriaga said, loading several heavy bags of ice into his car.

Inside the Stop & Shop, where lines of customers clogged the aisles, a new shipment of ice had just arrived. The supermarket was one of the few stores in town able to stay open, thanks to a generator, but it couldn’t save its frozen section. A faint odor of spoiled food wafted through the store.

“It’s been crazy,” cashier Scott Macaluso said. “Everybody’s desperate for milk, water, eggs, ice – all the basics. ... Nobody has any idea when the power will be back on. All we can do is try to stay open as long as we can.”

Thousands more flights scheduled for Tuesday and Wednesday were canceled, bringing the total to more than 18,000. The cancellations surpassed the 15,000 flights terminated by Hurricane Irene in August 2011, and some airlines had already begun to cancel flights scheduled for Thursday.

Because the storm tore across the nation’s busiest airspace, damaging La Guardia International Airport, Newark Liberty International Airport, Teterboro Airport and John F. Kennedy International Airport, the ripple effect reached across the country. At Los Angeles International Airport, more than 100 incoming and departing flights were canceled.

In New York, several hospitals had to evacuate hundreds of patients — including newborns cradled in the arms of nurses — after they lost power.

“We’ve had significant challenges at many of our hospitals and healthcare facilities,” said New York Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg. “Fortunately, as of now, there have not been any storm-related fatalities in any of them.”

Patients were taken to hospitals including Mount Sinai, Lenox Hill, Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer and Bellevue. The sickest and youngest of patients were evacuated first — some holding on to battery-powered respirators.

Nurses and other hospital staff embraced their blanket-covered patients, holding their IVs and other medical equipment as they evacuated New York University Langone Medical Center, the Associated Press reported. Power outages in Lower Manhattan, where the hospital is located, meant the facility had no functioning elevators.

In West Virginia, entire cities and even counties were encased in blizzard conditions and cut off from the rest of the state. Yet shelters remained nearly empty, with most residents riding out the storm at home.

 “We have a different problem here in West Virginia, and that’s people and their pride,” said Debra Palmer, the state’s assistant regional emergency services director. “They’re self-sufficient. They tend to not take advantage of things that are right in front of them.”

Firefighters and police officers had gone door-to-door as the storm approached, urging people to take refuge in shelters where hot meals and blankets awaited. In two counties, the effort resulted in a grand total of four people agreeing to go to a shelter.

“There’s no way to describe to you how private and proud these people are,” Palmer said. “They don’t really want any help. And they’ve done very well that way for generations.”

joseph.tanfani@latimes.com

david.zucchino@latimes.com

scott.gold@latimes.com

Tanfani reported from Beach Haven, N.J., Zucchino from Berkeley Heights, N.J., and Gold from Los Angeles. Tina Susman, Cindy Carcamo, Kim Geiger, Kathleen Hennessey, Hugo Martin, Michael Memoli and Joseph Serna contributed to this report.

[Update, 6:53 p.m., Oct. 30: An earlier version of this post said 38 were dead. The death toll has reached 48.]

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