The storm clobbered cities from Washington to Philadelphia, with stinging rain and gusts of more than 85 mph.
Airlines canceled more than 12,000 flights, disrupting the plans of travelers all over the world, and storm damage was projected at $10 billion to $20 billion, meaning it could prove to be one of the costliest natural disasters in U.S. history.
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie said people were stranded in Atlantic City, which sits on a barrier island and was mostly under water late Monday.
Christie had warned it was no longer safe for rescuers, and advised people who didn't evacuate the barrier islands to "hunker down" until morning.
"I hope, I pray, that there won't be any loss of life because of it," he said.
Christie blasted Atlantic City's mayor for encouraging people to stay in shelters on the barrier island rather than moving inland. "It shouldn't have been an option," Christie said.
He was also upset that some people elsewhere refused to heed his order to evacuate barrier islands. "It's just not acceptable conduct," he said.
While the hurricane's 90 mph winds registered as only a Category 1 on a scale of five, it packed "astoundingly low" barometric pressure, giving it terrific energy to push water inland, said Kerry Emanuel, a professor of meteorology at MIT.
Off North Carolina, a replica of the 18th-century sailing ship HMS Bounty that was built for the 1962 Marlon Brando movie "Mutiny on the Bounty" went down in the storm, and 14 crew members were rescued by helicopter from rubber lifeboats bobbing in 18-foot seas.
Two other crew members were missing. They were believed to be wearing survival suits capable of protecting them from cold water for 15 hours.