Sandy death toll rises to 50

Superstorm Sandy claimed a total of 50 lives and displaced thousands.

Rescue teams transport residents of Babylon, New York after Superstorm Sandy hit the area on 30 October 2012. Picture: Twitter

NEW YORK - Millions of people faced epic flooding and lengthy power outages on Tuesday after the massive storm Sandy wreaked havoc in much of the eastern United States with high winds and heavy rains.

The storm killed at least 50 people, and insurance companies started to tally billions of dollars in losses.

The storm hit with just a week to go to the November 6 presidential election, disrupting campaigning and early voting and raising questions about whether polling stations in some hard-hit communities would be ready to open by next Tuesday.

Sandy, which crashed ashore with hurricane-force winds on Monday near the New Jersey gambling resort of Atlantic City, was the biggest storm to hit the country in generations.

It swamped parts of New York's subway system and lower Manhattan's Wall Street district, closing financial markets for a second day.

It could still be a few days before New York City's massive public transport system is on track and working again.

The subway was shut down ahead of Superstorm Sandy, and a number of its stations were flooded as a result.

Around 5 million people from the world's biggest financial capital rely on the subway system to get to work.

NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg on Tuesday said the city faced an enormous challenge.

"MTA CEO Joe Lhota has described this as the worst disaster the agency has seen in the 108 years the subways have been running."

Authorities say it could take four to five days before the system can operate regularly.

Fallen trees and live wires have caused most of the deaths, as a result of Sandy.

Also, about one million people are still without power and many are still dealing with flooding.

Meanwhile, United States president Barack Obama will head to New Jersey on Wednesday, to visit places worst hit by the tropical storm.

Businesses and homes along New Jersey's shore were wrecked and communities were submerged under floodwater across a large area.

More than 8 million homes and businesses in several states were without electricity as trees toppled by Sandy's fierce winds took down power lines.

Across the region, crews began the monumental task of restoring power for anxious customers and getting transportation up and running could take time after the storm caused nearly 16,000 flight cancellations.

Cellphone service outages were widespread in many states and even some emergency call centres were affected.

The storm reached as far inland as Ohio and parts of West Virginia were buried under 1 metre of snow, a boon for ski resorts that was one of the storm's few bright spots.

Some cities like Washington, Philadelphia and Boston were spared the worst effects of the storm and were ready to return to normal by Wednesday. But New York City, large parts of New Jersey and some other areas will need at least several days to get back on their feet.

"The devastation is unthinkable," New Jersey Governor Chris Christie said after seeing pictures of his state's shore.

Seeking to show he was on top of the aftermath of the storm in the nation's most densely populated region, the White House said President Barack Obama planned to tour damaged areas of New Jersey on Wednesday accompanied by Christie.

The New Jersey governor, who has been a strong supporter of Republican presidential challenger Mitt Romney, praised Obama and the federal response to the storm.

"New Jersey, New York in particular have been pounded by this storm. Connecticut has taken a big hit," Obama said during a visit to Red Cross headquarters in Washington.

Obama issued federal emergency decrees for New York and New Jersey, declaring that "major disasters" existed in both states.