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Sandy turns inland after ravishing coast

PITTSBURGH -- A weakening Sandy, the hurricane turned fearsome superstorm that has killed at least 51 people, inched inland across Pennsylvania Tuesday, ready to bank toward western New York to dump more of its water.

More than 8.2 million households were without power in 17 states as far west as Michigan.

The scope of the storm's damage wasn't known yet. Though early predictions of river flooding in Sandy's inland path were petering out, colder temperatures made snow the main product of Sandy's slow march from the sea. Parts of the West Virginia mountains were blanketed with 2 feet of snow by Tuesday afternoon, and drifts 4 feet deep were reported at Great Smoky Mountains National Park on the Tennessee-North Carolina border.

With Election Day a week away, the storm also threatened to affect the presidential campaign. Federal disaster response, always a dicey political issue, has become even thornier since government mismanagement of Hurricane Katrina in 2005. And poll access and voter turnout, both of which hinge upon how people are impacted by the storm, could help shift the outcome in an extremely close race.

Images from around the storm-affected areas depicted scenes reminiscent of big-budget disaster movies. In Atlantic City, N.J., a gaping hole remained where a stretch of boardwalk once sat by the sea. In heavily flooded Hoboken, N.J., across the Hudson River from Manhattan, dozens of yellow cabs sat parked in rows, submerged in murky water nearly to their windshields.

Mobile-home park resident Juan Allen said water overflowed a 2-foot wall along a nearby creek, filling the area with 2 to 3 feet of water within 15 minutes. "I saw trees not just knocked down but ripped right out of the ground," he said. "I watched a tree crush a guy's house like a wet sponge."

In a measure of its massive size, waves on southern Lake Michigan rose to a record-tying 20.3 feet. High winds spinning off Sandy's edges clobbered the Cleveland area early yesterday, uprooting trees, closing schools and flooding major roads along Lake Erie.

Most people along the East Coast, though, grappled with an experience like Bertha Weismann of Bridgeport, Conn. -- frightening, inconvenient and financially problematic but, overall, endurable. Her garage was flooded and she lost power, but she was grateful.

"I feel like we are blessed," she said. "It could have been worse."

By yesterday afternoon, there were still only hints of the economic impact of the storm. Airports remained closed across the East Coast and far beyond as tens of thousands of travelers found they couldn't get where they were going.

By Tuesday night, Sandy had ebbed in strength but was joining up with another, more wintry storm -- an expected confluence of weather systems that earned it nicknames like "superstorm" and, on the eve of Halloween, "Frankenstorm."

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