Sandy's Punch Cripples Shore Towns

Storm packed hurricane-strength winds as it moved onshore in South Jersey and into Pennsylvania.

The Philadelphia region woke up to "unthinkable" devastation today, including downed trees, road closures, power outages for up to 2 million people and, most, starkly, a New Jersey shore destroyed by Hurricane Sandy.

The swirling storm, about 700 miles wide, was categorized a "dangerous" post-tropical cyclone at landfall, a technical categorization that did not reflect a loss in power. Its speed and wind gusts actually strengthened as it landed in New Jersey, handing the state an unbearable storm surge, high winds and battering rain.

"The level of devastation of the New Jersey shore is unthinkable," said New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie.

Coastal waters surged, rivers and creeks rose past their banks. Trees and utility poles tumbled across roads and onto parked cars. People reported hearing the crackle and pop of transformer wires exploding overhead. Some mistook the flashes of light for lightning. Power outages cascaded through the impact zone.

State Police say a 62-year-old Berks County man was killed on his porch when he was hit by a falling tree Monday night. A 8-year-old Susquehanna County boy died when he, too, was hit by a tree, according to the Associated Press. An elderly man in Lancaster County died Sunday when he fell while trimming a tree in anticipation of the storm. In northern New Jersey, two people died when a tree fell on a car Monday night, authorities said.

By late Monday, more than 11 inches of rain had fallen in some parts, with more forecasted for Tuesday. At one point, winds in Philadelphia hit 68 mph. Waves reached 12 feet in Delaware Bay on Monday, and 21 feet near Toms River.

By Tuesday morning, Delaware River flooding reached a record high of 10.62 inches. The previous record was 10.5 inches, according to Mayor Michael Nutter.

Crews are out dealing with fallen trees, debris and downed wires.

"Priorities are dealing with downed trees, trying to get roadways back open as quickly as possible, cleaning up debris, trees, leaves, all of that activity," said Mayor Nutter.

Pennsylvania also closed all major roadways around Philadelphia including I-76, I-676, I-476, I-95, Route 1. They reopened at 4 a.m. Tuesday.

SEPTA service is down Tuesday. Their crews are out now assessing their systems, which takes anywhere between six and eight hours. Depending on their assessment, we could have SEPTA up and running Tuesday afternoon.

The Delaware River Port Authority also closed all of its bridges to the city overnight. All city schools and non-emergency city offices are closed Tuesday. The city will access storm damage and make a determination as to whether or not classes will resume Wednesday.

NJ Transit hasn't been running since Sunday night. Amtrak canceled Monday and Tuesday service on its Northeast Corridor line. All flights in and out of Philadelphia International Airport were canceled Monday and remain cancelled Tuesday, although the airport is still open.

Government offices in New Jersey, Philadelphia and Delaware are closed Tuesday.

The city can expect winds between 30 and 40 mph, another half-inch of rain and more power outages for Tuesday, NBC10 meteorologist Dave Warren said. As of 5:45 a.m., roughly 500,000 PECO customers were without power, 65,000 of those customers are Philadelphians, said Nutter.

But even with the storm damage, shutdowns and power outages, all news wasn't bad. The mayor gave the people of Philadelphia kudos for their handling of Sandy.

"I commend the people Philadelphians and people in the region. They took our advice, they did what they needed to do. As far as we know everyone is safe and secure...and based on that, certainly we came through with flying colors."

At the Jersey Shore, those who failed to heed warnings to flee barrier islands and beachfront property had no choice but to hunker down and ride out potentially deadly storm surges Monday night.

Christie, who for days had been urging people to leave the area, lashed out at Atlantic City Mayor Lorenzo Langford, who, the governor said, had told residents to remain in town.

That left hundreds of people stuck in their houses and in shelters, one of which was in a school just a block from the bay, Christie said.

"Mayor Langford advised people to stay in shelters in the city," Christie said. "Despite my admonition to evacuate, he gave them comfort, for some reason, to stay."

Rescue workers were able to enter the city, which sits on a barrier island, very early Tuesday to assist those in need.

The center of the storm appeared to pass over Atlantic City some time after 6 p.m., the calm eye visible from radar images as it headed west. Because of its massive size, the National Weather Service didn't announce official landfall until 8 p.m.

But the respite in the center of the storm was brief, with the backside of the storm packing more waves of heavy winds and rain.

Parts of Atlantic County were already under five feet of water with significant flooding in Cape May and Ocean counties before Sandy made landfall.

The winds were so bad leading up to the storm that as of 2:30 p.m. Monday, NBC10's Lu Ann Cahn was having difficulty staying on her feet just outside Atlantic City.

The Garden State Parkway was closed from mile marker zero to mile marker 63. It reopened around 8:30 Tuesday morning. The New Jersey Turnpike was closed between Woodbridge and Newark.

Stay with NBC10 for continued updates on the storm.

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