Hurricane Sandy started breaking up as it hit the New Jersey coast Monday evening, whipping ashore with sustained winds of 90 mph (150 kph), dumping record amounts of rain, causing massive flooding, and leaving more than two million people without power along a huge section of the Eastern United States.
The National Hurricane Center re-designated the storm as a “post-tropical cyclone,” as it lost its tropical characteristics when it moved inland, but it was still packing hurricane-force winds.
Forecasters said the storm will get worse with powerful winds extending 175 miles from its center.
“We’re at the moment now where evacuations are no longer possible and we’re no longer able to come and rescue people,” said a visibly angry New Jersey Governor Chris Christie shortly before the storm hit.
He said despite his requests, Atlantic City Mayor Lorenzo Langford told people to stay in shelters in the city and they would now have to ride out the storm on their own until Tuesday morning.
Parts of Atlantic City were already under 5 feet of water.
“So for those of you who are on the barrier islands who decided it was a better idea to wait this out than to evacuate, and for those elected officials who decided to ignore my admonition, this is now your responsibility,” Christie said.
New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg – who had ordered mandatory evacuations for 375,000 people – also said on Monday, “The time for relocation or evacuation is over.”
A crane that collapsed Monday afternoon in high winds at a high-rise construction site in New York City dangled precariously 75 feet (23 meters) in the air and forced the evacuation of nearby residents and hotel guests.
As the highest winds began to pummel the city, Bloomberg closed high bridges and low tunnels, and pleaded with people to be cautious and use common sense.
“We’ve had to give a few people summonses today, for trying to surf, if you can believe that,” he said.
“We would like to experience what we’ve experienced so far and that is no fatalities,” he added.
“This is the most catastrophic event that we have faced and been able to plan for in any of our lifetimes,” Connecticut Governor Dannel Malloy said.
Malloy ordered all of Connecticut’s state highways to close as a precaution.
Up and down the east coast officials scrambled throughout the day to prepare emergency crews and residents, hoping to minimize damage and loss of life by ordering mass evacuations, shutting down roads, bridges and transit systems, closing schools and businesses.
New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo said the biggest concern for him is the storm surge.
“The question is going to be what level does the surge take us to… later on this evening when it’s actually high tide,” he said at a late-afternoon news conference.
A storm surge as high as 11 feet (3.5 meters) is expected late Monday night.
"We might never see in our lifetime anything like this again," Long Island, New York meteorologist Brysen VanEck told Newsday.
Off the coast of North Carolina in the southern US, rescue crews recovered the body of 42-year-old Claudene Christian, one of two crew members missing when their ship began taking on water and sank early Monday morning.
The Coast Guard was able to rescue 14 crewmembers several hours later, plucking them from the sea and off of life rafts.
The search continues for one man still missing.
The storm brought trading on Wall Street to a halt Monday, and the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) and Nasdaq stock exchange will be closed on Tuesday as well, the first time in more than 100 years that weather has stopped trading for more than 24 hours.
The United Nations canceled all meetings at its New York headquarters for the second consecutive day.
Just eight days ahead of the US presidential election, Hurricane Sandy interrupted campaign plans for both sides as well as early voting in Washington and several states.
President Barack Obama and his Republican challenger Mitt Romney cancelled campaign events through Tuesday.