ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. — Superstorm Sandy slammed into the New Jersey coastline with 80 mph winds and hurled a record-breaking 13-foot surge of seawater at New York City on Monday, roaring ashore after washing away part of the Atlantic City boardwalk and putting the presidential campaign on hold.
Just before its center reached land, the storm was stripped of hurricane status, but the distinction was purely technical, based on its shape and internal temperature. It still packed hurricane-force wind, and forecasters were careful to say it remained every bit as dangerous to the 50 million people in its path.
The National Hurricane Center announced at 8 p.m. that Sandy had come ashore about five miles from Atlantic City.
The sea surged a record of nearly 13 feet at the Battery, at the foot of Manhattan.
In an attempt to lessen damage from the storm, New York City's main utility cut power to about 6,500 customers in lower Manhattan, which includes Wall Street. Authorities worried that seawater would seep into the subway and cripple it, along with the electrical and communications systems vital to the nation's financial center.
1.5 million lose power
As it closed in, Sandy knocked out power to more than 1.5 million people and smacked the boarded-up big cities of the Northeast corridor — Washington, Baltimore, Philadelphia, New York and Boston, with stinging rain and gusts of more than 85 mph.
At least four deaths were blamed on the storm in Maryland, Pennsylvania, Connecticut and New York. Among them were two people killed by falling trees.
As Sandy made its way toward land, it converged with a cold-weather system out of the west that turned into a fearsome superstorm, a monstrous hybrid consisting not only of rain and high wind but of snow.
Forecasters warned of 20-foot waves bashing into the Chicago lakefront and up to 3 feet of snow in West Virginia.
Airlines canceled more than 12,000 flights, disrupting the plans of travelers all over the world, and storm damage was projected at $10 billion to $20 billion, meaning it could prove to be one of the costliest natural disasters in U.S. history.
President Barack Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney canceled their campaign appearances at the very height of the race, with just over a week to go before Election Day. The president pledged the government's help and made a direct plea from the White House to those in the storm's path.
“When they tell you to evacuate, you need to evacuate,” he said. “Don't delay, don't pause, don't question the instructions that are being given, because this is a powerful storm.”
Sandy, which killed 69 people in the Caribbean before making its way up the Atlantic, began to hook left at midday toward the New Jersey coast.
Hurricane status lost
The storm lost its status as hurricane because it no longer had a warm core center nor the convection — the upward air movement in the eye — that traditional hurricanes have, but it was still as dangerous as it was when it was considered a hurricane, according to National Hurricane Center spokesman Dennis Feltgen.
Pete Wilson, who owns an antiques shop in Cape May, N.J., at the state's southern tip and directly in Sandy's path, said the water was 6 inches above the bottom edge of the door. He had already taken a truckload of antiques out but was certain he would take a big hit.
“My jewelry cases are going to be toast,” he said. “I am not too happy. I am just going to have to wait, and hopefully clean up.”
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie said people were stranded in Atlantic City, which sits on a barrier island and was mostly under water late Monday.
He accused the mayor of allowing them to stay there.
With the hurricane fast approaching, Christie warned it was no longer safe for rescuers, and advised people who didn't evacuate the barrier islands to “hunker down” until morning.
“I hope, I pray, that there won't be any loss of life because of it,” he said.