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As Hurricane Sandy churned inland as a downgraded storm, residents up and down the battered mid-Atlantic region woke on Tuesday to lingering waters, darkened homes and the daunting task of cleaning up from once-in-a-generation storm surges and their devastating effects.

Power remained out for roughly six million people, including a large swath of Manhattan. Early risers stepped out into debris-littered streets that remained mostly deserted as residents awaited dawn to shed light on the extent of the damage. Bridges remained closed and seven subway tunnels under the East River remained flooded.

The storm was the most destructive in the 108-year history of New York City’s subway system, said Joseph J. Lhota, the chairman of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, in an early morning statement. “We are assessing the extent of the damage and beginning the process of recovery,” he said, but did not provide a timetable for restoring transit service to a paralyzed city.

At least seven deaths in the New York region were tied to the storm, which toppled trees and sparked fires in several areas. In Breezy Point on the Rockaways, nearly 200 firefighters were still battling a blaze on Tuesday morning that destroyed at least 50 tightly-packed homes in the beach community. A Fire Department spokesman said the area was “probably the most flooded part of the city, so there are all sorts of complications.”

The surging water also caused extensive complications at NYU Langone Medical Center when a backup power system failed Monday evening, forcing the evacuation of patients to other facilities. Backup power also failed at Coney Island Hospital in southern Brooklyn, though critical patients had been evacuated in advance of the storm.

Nine hours after making landfall at 8 p.m. on Monday, the storm – already downgraded from Hurricane Sandy to a post-tropical cyclone – weakened as it passed west across southern Pennsylvania, though it still packed maximum sustained winds of 65 m.p.h., the National Hurricane Center said. It was expected to turn north and head for Canada late on Tuesday.

The storm had unexpectedly picked up speed as it roared over the Atlantic Ocean on Monday, grinding life to a halt for millions of people in more than a half-dozen states, with extensive evacuations that turned shorefront neighborhoods into ghost towns.

The wind-driven rain lashed sea walls and protective barriers in places like Atlantic City, where the Boardwalk was damaged as water forced its way inland. Foam was spitting, and the sand gave in to the waves along the beach at Sandy Hook, N.J., at the entrance to New York Harbor. Water was thigh-high on the streets in Sea Bright, N.J., a three-mile sand-sliver of a town where the ocean joined the Shrewsbury River.

“It’s the worst I’ve seen,” said David Arnold, watching the storm from his longtime home in Long Branch, N.J. “The ocean is in the road, there are trees down everywhere. I’ve never seen it this bad.”

In New York, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s office said late Monday night that at least five deaths, at least three involving falling trees, were attributable to the storm in the state. About 7 p.m., a tree fell on a house in Queens, killing a 30-year-old man, the city police said. About the same time, two boys, ages 11 and 13, were killed in North Salem in Westchester County, when a tree fell on the house they were in, according to the State Police.

In Morris County, N.J., a man and a woman were killed when a tree fell on their car Monday evening, The Associated Press reported.

Earlier, a construction crane atop one of the tallest buildings in the city came loose and dangled 80 stories over West 57th Street, across the street from Carnegie Hall.

As the storm lashed the city, waves topped the sea wall in the financial district in Manhattan, sending cars floating down streets. West Street, along the western edge of Lower Manhattan, looked like a river. The Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel, known officially as the Hugh L. Carey Tunnel in memory of a former governor, flooded “from end to end,” the Metropolitan Transportation Authority said, hours after Governor Cuomo of New York ordered it closed to traffic. Officials said water also seeped into seven subway tunnels under the East River.

“In 108 years, our employees have never faced a challenge like the one that confronts us now,” Mr. Lhota, the transit authority chairman, said.

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The New York Times, “Sandy Barrels Through Region, Leaving Battered Path” (via inothernews)

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