Sandy came, saw, conquered across region in Pa., N.J.

The Atlantic superstorm Sandy churned across Pennsylvania after blacking out much of southern Manhattan and leaving a trail of flooding, death and destruction along the East Coast.

The storm came ashore in southern New Jersey at 8 p.m. local time yesterday and drove floodwaters to life-threatening levels in a region with 60 million residents. It temporarily stopped the U.S. presidential race eight days before Election Day, and President Barack Obama declared New York and New Jersey disaster regions eligible for federal relief.

Enlarge image Sandy Storms Across Pennsylvania Leaving Flooded NYC in Dark

A resident surveys the damage left by Hurricane Sandy, Oct. 30, 2012, in Atlantic City, New Jersey. Photographer: Mario Tama/Getty Images

Government offices and U.S. stock markets were shut for a second day amid damage that may total billions of dollars. The Associated Press reported 16 U.S. deaths related to the storm, which appeared to be losing strength this morning.

Sandy “should continue to spin down and weaken over the next few days as it drifts north or northeast,” said Matt Rogers, president of Commodity Weather Group LLC in Bethesda, Maryland. “No new major wind concerns are expected, but river flooding may be an issue in coming days due to all the heavy snow and rain in the mountains.”

Now termed a post-tropical cyclone, Sandy was centered 15 miles east of York, Pennsylvania, with winds of 65 miles per hour, according to a 5 a.m. advisory from the U.S. Hydrometeorological Prediction Center in College Park, Maryland. The center will issue its next statement on the storm at 11 a.m.

NYC Blackout

At least 3.6 million homes and businesses were without power yesterday, the U.S. Energy Department said. Shuttered oil refineries boosted gasoline futures prices

“We knew that this was going to be a very dangerous storm and the storm has met our expectations,” New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg said in a press briefing last night. “The worst of the weather has come and the city certainly is feeling the impacts.”

Power was lost in Manhattan “river to river,” south of 35th Street, Bloomberg said. Some of the blackout was deliberate, as Consolidated Edison Co. (ED) shut off electricity to protect its underground equipment from potential damage, said Chris Olert, a spokesman for the company.

The mayor this morning issued a message urging city employees to report to work and help with recovery operations if they could do so safely.

Queens Fire

A flood gauge in New York City’s Battery Park, at the southernmost end of Manhattan, registered 13.46 feet as of 8:30 p.m. The National Weather Service said the modern record was 10.02 feet in September 1960 during Hurricane Donna.

New York University’s Langone Medical Center evacuated 215 patients, including infants from its neo-natal intensive care unit, and transported them to other hospitals when it lost power and backup systems failed.

A fire in Breezy Point in the New York City borough of Queens had about 198 firefighters working to contain a blaze that had destroyed at least 50 homes and left two people with minor injuries, a New York Fire Department official said today. The department also posted details on the fire on the social media site Twitter.

Separately, two New Yorkers were killed in the borough, a man hit by a tree falling through his home and a woman electrocuted by a live wire obscured by water, emergency officials said.

Nuclear Plant Alert

Sixteen deaths were reported in New Jersey, New York, Maryland, North Carolina, West Virginia, Pennsylvania and Connecticut, according to the Associated Press. Some of the victims were killed by falling trees. The storm was blamed for 69 deaths in the Caribbean, the AP said.

The nation’s oldest nuclear power plant, Exelon Corp.’s Oyster Creek facility in New Jersey, declared an alert last night due to elevated levels of water in its water-intake structure, the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission said in a statement.

The plant, about 33 miles (53 kilometers) north of Atlantic City and near the center of the storm’s landfall, was already offline for a refueling outage. Operations were halted at two other plants in New York state, the Associated Press and Reuters said in separate reports.

Sandy may cause as much as $20 billion in economic damage and losses, according to Eqecat Inc., a risk-management company in Oakland, California.

Flights Canceled

Insured losses may exceed $6 billion in the U.S., led by costs in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Maryland and New York, according to estimates from Kinetic Analysis Corp. compiled by Bloomberg. As many as 10 million people may lose power, according to Seth Guikema, a Johns Hopkins University engineer.

Counting yesterday’s disruptions, airlines were flying about 12,500 fewer trips than they had planned in the 48 hours ending today, according to FlightAware, a Houston-based tracking company, and mass transit stopped in New York, parts of New Jersey, Boston, Philadelphia and Washington.

All U.S. equity markets, which were closed yesterday, will be shut again today, the first shutdown for consecutive days due to weather since 1888. The Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association said bond trading would be suspended today.

Crude oil fell to a three-month low yesterday while gasoline prices rose as East Coast refineries curbed operations. Both futures contracts advanced in electronic trading today.

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