Surging water, ferocious winds and driving rain pummeled Long Island Monday and into the night as one of the most powerful storms in the region's history struck with near-hurricane force. At least two people had been killed -- one on Long Island and one in Queens.
More than 625,000 Long Island Power Authority customers were without power Monday night, homes and streets in many communities were inundated, and thousands of residents along the coasts had fled the effects of Sandy, evacuating to shelters or the homes of relatives and friends.
The nation's most populous region was at a standstill before the storm made landfall in Atlantic City, N.J., at 8 p.m., classified as a "post-tropical cyclone."
In New York City, sea water was entering the subway system in Lower Manhattan, said Charles Seaton, MTA spokesman. . The airports, all Metropolitan Transportation Authority bridges and tunnels, and the Port Authority's Holland Tunnel were closed. Service on commuter railroads, subways and buses remained suspended. The New York Stock Exchange shut down and will be closed again Tuesday, the first such occurrence on consecutive days because of weather since 1888.
The storm provoked comparisons to the deadly, multi-state Hurricane of 1938 -- dubbed "The Long Island Express" -- and to Hurricane Gloria in September 1985, which caused $100 million in damage on the Island and left two-thirds of its residents without electricity.
"Frankenstorm," it was called. A bizarre hybrid, meteorologists said. Hurricane Sandy, after leaving more than 60 dead in the Caribbean, churned up the East Coast. Then, affected by a wintry front from the west and by cold, dry air streaming south from the Arctic, it turned toward the coast -- arriving on Long Island with high tides made even higher by a full moon.
Multiple states affected
Before the storm has run its course, it is expected to affect at least 18 states plus the District of Columbia, paralyze life for millions of people, cause $6 billion or more in damage, and cut power to 10 million people, some for a week or more.
"It's a truly historic event," said Joey Picca, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Upton. "It will be remembered for a long time."
"This absolutely puts Irene to shame," Hempstead Supervisor Kate Murray said, referring to the August 2011 tropical storm that also caused major flooding, power outages and downed trees.
In the hours before the storm's full fury hit, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo issued another in a series of warnings.
"The worst is still coming," he said at a 4 p.m. news briefing. "Don't be fooled. Don't look out the window and say, 'Well, you know, it doesn't look so bad.' "
About 2,000 National Guard members were being deployed statewide, and Cuomo said the majority were sent to Long Island. At Nassau's request, the state deployed 30 Humvees and 30 high-axle vehicles to aid evacuation efforts.
Before darkness fell, homes and streets on the Island's North and South shores and in low-lying areas were inundated and in some cases -- such as Bayville -- completely cut off, becoming islands themselves. Storm-related fires broke out in Island Park, Freeport, Lindenhurst and Babylon, with firefighters hindered by flooded streets and homes.
Fire Island breached
An estimated 60 to 70 people on fragile Fire Island rode out the storm Monday night against evacuation orders and officials' repeated warnings. Their fate was not known. Islip town and fire officials said Atlantic waters had breached the island in two spots and overwashed it in seven others.
Government offices, many businesses and schools on Long Island and in the city were scheduled to remain closed again Tuesday. At least two hospitals -- Long Beach Hospital and Eastern Long Island Hospital in Greenport -- had evacuated their patients.
Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano confirmed the county's first storm-related fatality, a Roslyn resident killed because of a tree fall. Mangano did not have any other details Monday night.
"The roads are in very bad shape," he said. "Traffic lights are out throughout Nassau County. Do not take roadways unless it's an emergency."
The Nassau County Health Department declared a "do-not-consume water" order for the Long Beach Water District and the Mill Neck Estates Water District in the Town of Oyster Bay, saying residents must boil water before drinking.
On the Island, the brunt of the storm started to hit about 3 p.m. Wind gusts hit 76 mph at Plum Island about that time, increased to about 85 mph at various locations by 4 p.m., and hit 96 mph at Eatons Neck at 7 p.m. Winds were to decrease after 10 p.m. to about 60 mph.
Tuesday, gusts of 40 to 50 mph are possible but should lessen by the evening to about 30 mph, Picca said. To qualify as a hurricane, sustained winds must be 74 mph or more. , Sandy's topmost sustained winds were about 60 mph.
In the days during Sandy's approach, officials cautioned that with many leaves still on the trees, branches were more susceptible to being ripped off and whole trees toppled.
"We've seen tons of downed trees," Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone said at about 6 p.m., "and the scary part is that we haven't really had the major part of the storm hitting yet."
Tidal surges punished the Island's shores. As early as 8 a.m. , almost the entire beach at Robert Moses State Park was flooded.
In Freeport, water was "spilling over the bulkheads" of local canals 90 minutes before the 8:41 a.m. high tide, said Richard Holdener, Freeport's director of emergency management.
He said he feared last night's high tide "will be one for the record books."
Meteorologists said the surge on the North Shore was expected to be 6 to 11 feet above normal, 7 to 9 feet on the western part of the South Shore, 4 to 7 feet on the eastern part of the South Shore, and 4 to 6 feet on the North and South forks.
Flooding forced the Nassau County Police Department's 7th precinct to abandon its building in Seaford and move to the 8th precinct in Levittown.
East End hospitals appeared to be taking a hit in the afternoon. Eastern Long Island Hospital in Greenport reported it was evacuating its 49 patients as a precaution, sending them to other facilities, including Stony Brook University Hospital.
Eastern's emergency room was to remain open for "treatment and release only," spokeswoman Pat Kiernan said.
Southampton Hospital, which has about 80 patients, was using its backup generator, chief executive Bob Chaloner said.
On Island Channel Road in Wantagh, Anthony DiMonda and his sister, Danielle, were preparing to evacuate yesterday afternoon for the first time in their lives.
DiMonda, 39, a city firefighter who has lived on the canal-lined street all his life, said he never had seen the water so high, not even during Irene. "And right now it's low tide," he said, after he walked across the street in his flip-flops to help his sister, a Suffolk police officer, sandbag her garage.
In Babylon, clammer Bob Brittan, 77, did something he's never done before -- abandoned his house fronting the Great South Bay because of a storm.
He and his wife, Carol, 74, said they would ride out the storm at their daughter's home in West Islip.
"We lived here 40 years, through three bad ones, and this is the worst," he said.