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A fallen tree branch sits on a car blocking East 74th St. between Lexington Avenue and Third Avenue on Manhattan's Upper West Side on Monday, Oct. 29, 2012. (Willie Regan/AP)
A fallen tree branch sits on a car blocking East 74th St. between Lexington Avenue and Third Avenue on Manhattan's Upper West Side on Monday, Oct. 29, 2012. (Willie Regan/AP)

Death toll rises as U.S. authorities struggle with unfolding disaster Add to ...

The misery of superstorm Sandy’s devastation grew Tuesday as millions along the U.S. East Coast faced life without power or mass transit for days, and huge swaths of New York City remained eerily quiet. The U.S. death toll climbed to 48, many of the victims killed by falling trees, and rescue work continued. New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg says the New York City death toll is up to 18. There has been one death in Canada.

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The storm that made landfall in New Jersey on Monday evening with hurricane force cut power to more than 8.2 million across the East and put the presidential campaign on hold just one week before Election Day.

New York was among the hardest hit, with its financial heart closed for a second day. The storm caused the worst damage in the 108-year history of the city’s subway system, and Mr. Bloomberg said it could be four or five days before the biggest U.S. transit system was running again.

“This was a devastating storm, maybe the worst that we have ever experienced,” Mr. Bloomberg said.

But the full extent of the damage in New Jersey was being revealed as morning arrived. Emergency crews fanned out to rescue hundreds.

 Seven subway tunnels linking Manhattan to Brooklyn flooded. All power was out in Manhattan’s lower third. Winds broke a towering crane, leaving its boom hanging precariously 70-storeys over midtown.

Only a single transportation link – the Lincoln Tunnel to New Jersey – remained open. All other bridges and tunnels– more than a dozen – were closed and Manhattan Island was all but cut off.

At Breezy Point in Queens firefighters were battling a massive blaze that had engulfed more than 70 homes. Wall Street was flooded, seawater poured into the huge construction pits near the fallen World Trade Center towers and floodwaters surged more than three metres above normal.

New York City environmental officials said untreated sewage is flowing into waterways around each of the city's five boroughs.

The Department of Environmental Protection's online map shows high-volume overflows at more than a dozen locations around the Bronx, Brooklyn and Queens and smaller flows from Manhattan and Staten Island.

But Sandy’s savagery extended far beyond New York City. All along the New Jersey, New York and Connecticut coastlines there was major flooding. Atlantic City was awash, a bridge was damaged in Boston, and sections of Annapolis were under water.

In the New Jersey town of Mooache, across the Hudson River from New York City, rescuers were using boats to reach hundreds of people stranded on roofs and atop mobile homes after they were marooned by floodwaters overtopping a levee.

President Barack Obama signed emergency orders declaring New York City and parts of New Jersey and Long Island “major disaster” zones making them eligible for federal funding for reconstruction.

The storm disrupted the frenetic last week of presidential campaigning by both Mr. Obama and his Republican rival Mitt Romney.

As the massive storm moved inland overnight, heavy rains turned to huge snowfalls in the Appalachians. Highways and local roads were snarled by thousands of fallen trees, blown debris and closures.

Financial markets in New York remained closed Tuesday – the first time weather had shuttered the stock exchange for two consecutive days since an 1888 blizzard.

More than 1-million people remained under evacuation orders although it was clear many – especially in some hard-hit places like Atlantic City – had failed to heed warnings to get out before Sandy slammed ashore Monday evening, its centre making landfall just south of Atlantic City.

As dawn broke along the eastern seaboard, the full scope of the havoc wrought by what meteorologists are calling the biggest storm to ever slam ashore in North America was slowly emerging.

There were damaged piers, reshaped coastlines, beach houses destroyed and flooding that extended far up estuaries. Thousands of trees were down. Power companies were warning it would take days, maybe weeks, and therefore past next Tuesday’s elections before the millions of customers left without electricity would all be back on the grid.

At least 7.5-million utility customers – meaning many more people – were without power in half a dozen states.

New York’s three main airports all remained closed. More than 12,000 flights – including hundreds of transatlantic flights – had already been cancelled. Airports from the capital to Maine and as far inland as Chicago were affected.

Amtrak again scrapped all of its east coast trains and commuter services were disrupted or closed in Washington, Baltimore, Philadelphia, New York City and Boston.

Sandy’s death toll was over 80 and climbing, including 66 killed in the Caribbean before the storm turned north. Many of those killed in the United States were struck by debris of crushed by falling trees.

As the hurricane merged with an existing eastbound winter storm and moved inland, wind speeds dropped from the 150 km/h that had powered the massive storm surges.

But even as it weakens Tuesday, forecasters were warned of still-damaging winds, heavy inland rains and dangerous conditions as the slow-moving storm passes through Canada.

Sandy’s huge span – with damaging winds across a swirling, counter-clockwise storm system with a diametre of nearly 1,500-km – meant its coastal impact stretched from Nova Scotia to the Carolinas.

- with a report from Reuters/AP

Follow on Twitter: @PaulKoring

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