Waking up to floods, fires and darkness after Sandy

Updated 9:01 PM EDT, Tue October 30, 2012

Story highlights

NYC subway floods, millions without power

Hurricane Sandy wreaks havoc and causes fear along the East Coast

"This is a nor'easter on steroids," one meteorologist says

The destruction is breathtaking, residents say

(CNN) —  

Beth Bartley clutched anything within reach to steady herself on the bathroom floor of her shuddering Manhattan apartment.

Sandy had knocked out power. East 96th Street below was a river. She was on the fifth floor, bracing herself as the building shuddered and creaked.

“The winds were so strong that the building heaved. It was eerie,” said Bartley, an actress. “It was really scary.”

Monday night, Superstorm Sandy descended on the Northeast with a fury that astonished even veteran weather watchers. Buildings crumbled, floods and fires have destroyed homes and millions are without power. Ice and rain whipped off Sandy’s edge, blanketing West Virginia with several feet of snow.

Bartley was safe after riding out the storm but that was more than could be said for her neighbors miles west of upper Manhattan in Bergen County, New Jersey. Hundreds of people were rescued after they were stranded on the roofs of their homes floating in a tidal surge. A natural berm had broken.

In New Jersey alone, millions of households had no electricity, twice the number left in the dark during Hurricane Irene last year, Gov. Chris Christie said.

Sandy brings death, flooding, outages

Flooding was a huge problem everywhere. New York City’s subway tunnels were soaked as water coursed into elevator shafts. The storm sparked fires that destroyed dozens of homes, left a giant crane wobbling dangerously near a luxury apartment building in Manhattan, ripped up part of Atlantic City’s fabled boardwalk and turned the historic Jane’s Carousel into an island.

It claimed life after life.

Millions left in the dark

“This is a nor’easter on steroids,” said Reed Timmer, a meteorologist who appears on the TV show “Storm Chasers.”

Even though New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie bluntly asked residents not to be “stupid” and get out, Trevor Mann was one of the few in his area of Ocean City who did not heed the evacuation calls.

He watched as the eye of storm passed over his coastal city Monday evening, and floodwater rushed in like a relentless linebacker.

The wind threw patio furniture into homes. Rushing waters made beach houses disappear.

The destruction was breathtaking.

“I am not going outside,” Mann said. “But when people do go outside, the cleanup is going to be tremendous and there is going to be a lot of damage.”

In the dead quiet of the night, lights out in his home in Union City, New Jersey, Shane Didier heard a thunderous crash. A huge generator on the street had exploded, sending a fireball into the sky worthy of a Bruce Willis movie.

The 25-year-old Barclays analyst had the wherewithal to start filming.

“I ran outside and live wires were whipping like crazy,” he told CNN. “Two cars caught fire. The police, they got there right away, but everybody was really scared. Thank goodness trees were down in the street so even if someone felt compelled to walk toward this thing, the trees were in everyone’s way.”

The smoke was overwhelming. Didier didn’t know what else to do but go back inside.

Please let this end, he thought. By dawn Tuesday, he said the stench of burned rubber filled his neighborhood. “It’s amazing we’re all alright,” he said. “My neighbor is thrilled that his kids are OK. We made it through.”

Sandy’s impact: State by state

Shahir Daud was watching the lights go out in his Upper East Side New York neighborhood Monday evening, hoping that his place would not be next.

He saw manhole covers blown out of the street and wondered if there was a fire nearby. He watched as dark waters from the East River submerged parts of Franklin D. Roosevelt East River Drive.

By late Monday evening, it seemed the worst of the storm had passed his neighborhood. The 33-year-old filmmaker wondered when he would be able to get back to his job at MTV.

“I work in lower Manhattan, I don’t know when the (trains) are going to run again,” Daud said. “We are just going to hunker down here. We are lucky.”

Earl Bateman, a stockbroker who has lived in New York for 30 years, was stunned seeing so much water coursing through New York City.

Transit systems struggling to restart

“There’s this river flowing through the middle of Manhattan,” he said.

The power was still on in his building, but the elevators had stopped working. Not a good thing for a man who lives on the 18th floor.

Unlike Bateman, more than 7 million people in 13 states spent a chilly Monday night in the dark.

In southern Vermont, Caleb Clark said he felt the howling winds, and watched as rain battered his town.

It was his son Shaw’s 6-month birthday, and the family spent it listening to weather reports about downed trees and closed roads.

“Shaw, what do you think about this storm?” the father asked.

“Ba ba baaa,” the baby said and then burst into a wide, toothless smile.

Little Shaw may have been one of the few smiling as Sandy continued to affect millions.

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