Monster storm death toll climbs to 30

Millions of people were left reeling in the aftermath of monster storm Sandy on the US East Coast.

A flooded street in New York caused by Hurricane Sandy. Picture: AFP

NEW YORK - Millions of people were left reeling in the aftermath of monster storm Sandy on Tuesday as New York City and a wide swathe of the eastern United States struggled with epic flooding and massive power outages. The death toll climbed to at least 30.

Sandy, which crashed ashore with hurricane-force winds in New Jersey overnight as the biggest storm to hit the country in generations, swamped parts of New York's subway system and Manhattan's Wall Street district, closing financial markets for a second day.

As the weakened but still sprawling storm system continued its trek inland, more than 1 million people in a dozen states along its path were still under orders to evacuate. Sandy left behind a trail of damage - homes underwater, trees toppled and power lines downed - up and down the Atlantic coast.

The storm interrupted the presidential campaign a week before Election Day, giving President Barack Obama an opportunity to look presidential as he oversees the government response. He drew praise from New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, who has been a strong supporter of Obama's opponent.

"I want everyone leaning forward on this," an aide quoted Obama as telling his disaster-response team in the White House Situation Room. "I don't want to hear that we didn't do something because bureaucracy got in the way."

Houses and businesses on the New Jersey shore sustained extensive damage from the storm's onslaught.

"The devastation is unthinkable," Christie told reporters after seeing aerial pictures of the area.

In the storm's wake, Obama issued federal emergency decrees for New York and New Jersey, declaring that "major disasters" existed in both states. One disaster-forecasting company predicted economic losses could ultimately reach $20 billion (12.4 billion pounds), only half insured.

"Make no mistake about it. This was a devastating storm, maybe the worst we have ever experienced," New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg said.

All along the East Coast, residents and business owners awoke to scenes of destruction.

"There are boats in the street five blocks from the ocean," said evacuee Peter Sandomeno, one of the owners of the Broadway Court Motel in Point Pleasant Beach, New Jersey. "That's the worst storm I've ever seen, and I've been there for 11 years."

Sandy, which was especially imposing because of its wide-ranging winds, brought a record storm surge of almost 14 feet (4.2 meters) to downtown Manhattan, well above the previous record of 10 feet (3 meters) during Hurricane Donna in 1960, the National Weather Service said.

Water poured into the subway tunnels that course under the city, the country's financial capital, and Bloomberg said the subway system would likely be closed for four or five days.

"Hitting at high tide, the strongest surge and the strongest winds all hit at the worst possible time," said Jeffrey Tongue, a meteorologist for the weather service in Brookhaven, New York.

Hurricane-force winds as high as 90 miles per hour (145 km per hour) were recorded, he said. "Hopefully it's a once-in-a-lifetime storm," Tongue said.

As residents and business owners began a massive clean-up effort and faced a long and costly recovery, large parts of the region remained without power, and transportation in the New York metropolitan area was at a standstill.

The U.S. Department of Energy said more than 8 million homes and businesses in several states were without electricity due to the storm, which crashed ashore late on Monday near the gambling resort of Atlantic City, New Jersey.