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Sandy's trail of death and destruction

THE death toll from Sandy, the most devastating storm to hit America's east coast in decades, now stands at at least 50 -- and the bill is running into tens of billions.

Millions are now without power and the thousands who fled their waterlogged homes were left wondering when, or if, life would return to normal.

Many of the dead were killed by falling trees.

And Sandy, although weakened, hasn't finished yet.

It inched inland across Pennsylvania, ready to bank toward western New York State to dump more of its water and likely cause more havoc last night.

Behind it, it left a dazed, inundated New York City, a drenched Atlantic Coast and a moonscape of disarray and debris -- from unmoored shore-town boardwalks to submerged mass-transit systems.

"Nature," said New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, "is an awful lot more powerful than we are".

More than 8.2 million households were without power in 17 states as far west as Michigan.

Nearly two million of those were in New York, where large swathes of lower Manhattan lost electricity and entire streets ended up under water -- as did seven subway tunnels between Manhattan and Brooklyn at one point, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority said.


The city's subway system, the lifeblood of more than five million residents, was damaged like never before, and Mr Bloomberg said it could be four or five days before the trains start running again. Consolidated Edison said electricity in and around New York could take a week to restore.

Though early predictions of river flooding in Sandy's inland path were petering out, colder temperatures made snow the main product of Sandy's slow march from the sea. Parts of the West Virginia mountains were blanketed with snow and 1.2 metre-deep drifts were reported at Great Smoky Mountains National Park on the Tennessee-North Carolina border.

With election day a week away, the storm also threatened to affect the presidential campaign. Federal disaster response, always a dicey political issue, has become even thornier since government mismanagement of Hurricane Katrina, which devastated the Gulf Coast in 2005. And poll access and voter turnout, both of which hinge upon how people are affected by the storm, could help shift the outcome in an extremely close race.

In one bit of good news, officials announced that John F Kennedy International Airport in New York and Newark International Airport in New Jersey will reopen this morning with a limited service. New York's LaGuardia Airport remains closed.


Forecasting firm IHS Global Insight predicted the storm will end up causing about $20bn (¤15bn) in damages and $10bn (€7.5bn) to $30bn (€22.5bn) in lost business.

Another firm, AIR Worldwide, estimated losses up to $15bn -- big numbers probably offset by reconstruction and repairs that will contribute to longer-term growth. Images from around the storm-affected areas depicted scenes reminiscent of big-budget disaster movies. In Atlantic City, New Jersey, a gaping hole remained where once a stretch of boardwalk sat by the sea. In Queens, New York, rubble from a fire that destroyed as many as 100 houses in an evacuated beachfront neighbourhood jutted into the air at ugly angles against a grey sky.

In heavily flooded Hoboken, New Jersey, across the Hudson River from Manhattan, dozens of yellow cabs sat parked in rows, submerged in murky water to their windshields. At the ground zero construction site in lower Manhattan, sea water rushed into a gaping hole under harsh floodlights.

One of the most dramatic tales came from lower Manhattan, where a failed generator forced New York University's Langone Medical Centre to relocate more than 200 patients, including 20 babies.

Sandy killed 18 people in New York City, Mr Bloomberg said. The dead included two who drowned in a home and one who was in bed when a tree fell on an apartment. A 23-year-old woman died after stepping into a puddle near a live electrical wire.