One of the most dramatic tales came from lower Manhattan, where a failed backup generator forced New York University's Langone Medical Center to relocate more than 200 patients, including 20 babies from neonatal intensive care. Dozens of ambulances lined up in the rainy night and the tiny patients were gingerly moved out, some attached to battery-powered respirators as gusts of wind blew their blankets.
In Moonachie, N.J., 10 miles north of Manhattan, water rose to 5 feet within 45 minutes and trapped residents who thought the worst of the storm had passed. Mobile-home park resident Juan Allen said water overflowed a 2-foot wall along a nearby creek, filling the area with 2 to 3 feet of water within 15 minutes. "I saw trees not just knocked down but ripped right out of the ground," he said. "I watched a tree crush a guy's house like a wet sponge."
In a measure of its massive size, waves on southern Lake Michigan rose to a record-tying 20.3 feet. High winds spinning off Sandy's edges clobbered the Cleveland area early Tuesday, uprooting trees, closing schools and flooding major roads along Lake Erie.
Most along the East Coast, though, grappled with an experience like Bertha Weismann of Bridgeport, Conn.— frightening, inconvenient and financially problematic but, overall, endurable. Her garage was flooded and she lost power, but she was grateful. "I feel like we are blessed," she said. "It could have been worse."
The presidential candidates' campaign maneuverings Tuesday revealed the delicacy of the need to look presidential in a crisis without appearing to capitalize on a disaster. President Barack Obama canceled a third straight day of campaigning, scratching events scheduled for Wednesday in swing-state Ohio, in Sandy's path. Republican Mitt Romney resumed his campaign with plans for an Ohio rally billed as a "storm relief event."
And the weather posed challenges a week out for how to get everyone out to vote. On the hard-hit New Jersey coastline, a county elections chief said some polling places on barrier islands will be unusable and have to be moved.
"This is the biggest challenge we've ever had," said George R. Gilmore, chairman of the Ocean County Board of Elections.
By Tuesday afternoon, there were still only hints of the economic impact of the storm.
Forecasting firm IHS Global Insight predicted the storm will end up causing about $20 billion in damages and $10 billion to $30 billion in lost business. Another firm, AIR Worldwide, estimated losses up to $15 billion — big numbers probably offset by reconstruction and repairs that will contribute to longer-term growth.
"The biggest problem is not the first few days but the coming months," said Alan Rubin, an expert in nature disaster recovery.
Airports were shut across the East Coast and far beyond as tens of thousands of travelers found they couldn't get where they were going. John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York and Newark International Airport in New Jersey will reopen at 7 a.m. Wednesday with limited service, but LaGuardia Airport will stay closed, officials said.
Sandy began in the Atlantic and knocked around the Caribbean — killing nearly 70 people — and strengthened into a hurricane as it chugged across the southeastern coast of the United States. By Tuesday night it had ebbed in strength but was joining up with another, more wintry storm — an expected confluence of weather systems that earned it nicknames like "superstorm" and, on Halloween eve, "Frankenstorm."
It became, pretty much everyone agreed Tuesday, the weather event of a lifetime — and one shared vigorously on social media by people in Sandy's path who took eye-popping photographs as the storm blew through, then shared them with the world by the blue light of their smartphones.
On Twitter, Facebook and the photo-sharing service Instagram, people tried to connect, reassure relatives and make sense of what was happening — and, in many cases, work to authenticate reports of destruction and storm surges. They posted and passed around images and real-time updates at a dizzying rate, wishing each other well and gaping, virtually, at scenes of calamity moments after they unfolded. Among the top terms on Facebook through the night and well into Tuesday, according to the social network: "we are OK," ''made it" and "fine."
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