Sandy leaves millions without power, return to normal still uncertain

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Hurricane Sandy reached land in the evening of Oct. 29, killing at least fifteen and causing estimates of economic damage between $10 billion and $20 billion. The death toll will likely rise as the storm continues and as crews gain access to more homes and communities when waters receed.

Dawn of Oct. 30 found parts of the Northeast flooded, up to two feet of snow in West Virginia, millions of powerless homes, closed offices, a mountain of debris, and a nuclear power plant still on alert. The 900-mile-wide storm delivered hurricane-force winds some 175 miles from the center of the storm, while tropical storm-force winds reached up to 485 miles inland. At its peak, the storm caused (.pdf) power outages for 8.1 million customers.

Federal agencies in the Washington, D.C. area remain closed on Oct. 30, says the Office of Personnel Management.

While the Supreme Court stayed open Oct. 29 to hear arguments, it has closed Oct. 30 and cases are rescheduled for Nov. 1.

Some East Coast Veterans Affairs Medical Centers and some of their partners and satellite clinics are closed, with the Manhattan location evacuated. There are some closures in Philadelphia and at the Fort Howard clinic in Maryland. Those in the D.C. metro area are open and resuming a regular schedule. The D.C. center urges "veterans not to travel today, if at all possible. But, if you need our services, we are staffed and ready to serve you."

Meanwhile, in Washington, D.C. region, the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority says bus and metro public transportation will begin limited service starting at 2 p.m. with normal service expected in time for the Oct. 31 morning commute.

In Manhattan, bridges remain closed and seven subway tunnels under the East River are still flooded. These run risk for major damage as crews will have to wait for flood waters to recede before assessing structural damage as well as the salt water's impact on subway electrical systems. If damage is extensive, parts and rails will need to be moved offsite for cleaning and repairs.

 "The New York City subway system is 108 years old, but it has never faced a disaster as devastating as what we experienced last night," said Joseph J. Lhota, the chairman of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority.

Con Edison says some 650,000 customers in New York City and Westchester County are without power. "This is the largest storm-related outage in our history," said John Miksad, Con Edison senior vice president for electric operaitons. The previous record of some 200,000 outages was set by Hurricane Irene in 2011. Con Edison suggests those without power contact the company and anyone finding a downed powerline contact local police immediately.

Half of Hoboken, N.J., is still under water and emergency crews are largely unable to reach residential areas in the city. NBC News reports that four New Jersey cities, Moonachie, Little Ferry, South Hackensack, and Hackensack, were submerged under up to 6 feet of water after a levee broke.

Nearly 16,000 airline flights were canceled across the nation since Oct. 28, with major East Coast airports closing and moving as many of their airplanes offsite as possible. The storm has also forced cancellation of flights all around the world that were schedule to fly into New York City.

Most flights are being rescheduled starting Oct. 31, but travelers should check the Federal Aviation Administration's flight delay map and contact their airlines for support and claim travel vouchers or new flights. Airlines are giving passengers roughly 14 days to claim vouchers and find replacement flights.

Delaware has lifted some of its driving restrictions but still tells motorists to be careful as some roads remain impassible.

"Transportation is going to be tied up for a long time," said President Obama on Oct. 29.  "The fact is a lot of these emergency crews are not going to get into position to start restoring power until some of these winds die down."

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission declared (.pdf) an alert at the Oyster Creek nuclear power plant in costal New Jersey as water started to enter the plant in some areas on the night of Oct. 29. The NRC says the plant is in a regularly scheduled outage. Three reactors--Nine Mile Point 1 in Scriba, N.Y., Indian Point 3 in Buchanan, N.Y., and Salem Unit 1 in Hancocks Bridge, N.J.--underwent automatic or manual shutdowns. 

The Nine Mile Point underwent an automatic shutdown around 9 p.m. when electrical fault occurred on power lines used to send power to the grid, the NRC says, while Indian Point 3 automatically shut down around 10:40 p.m. in response to electricla grid distributances caused by the storm. Operators manually shut down Salem Unit 1 around 1:10 a.m. after circulating-water pumps were affected by high river level and debris in the waterway.

Sandy is even impacting the world of sports. While Green Bay Packers wide receiver Greg Jennings was forced to cancel hernia surgery this week in Philadelphia, former National Football League Commissioner Paul Tagliabue postponed the New Orleans Saints' appeals hearing in the bounty scandal, and the National Basketball Association says there may be a cancellation for the Oct. 31 Philadelphia game between the 76ers and the Nuggets.

For more:
visit the National Hurricane Center webpage for Hurricane Sandy
go to the National Weather Service webpage for water updates
- check for news alerts from FEMA

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