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Sandy leaves trail of destruction, disbelief in its path

As New York slowly comes back to life, it's electrical power that divides the haves and have-nots. Gridlock also remains a concern, but subway service is slowly beginning to resume and the New York Marathon is still slated to go forward. NBC's Anne Thompson reports.

From the devastated New Jersey shore to eerily empty lower Manhattan, tens of millions of Americans lived through Sandy's fury and were trying to come to grips with its destruction as the storm waters slowly receded.

The impact of the storm was virtually without parallel in the densely populated tristate region of New York, New Jersey and Connecticut, with its destructive winds, heavy flooding and raging fires. Farther afield, powerful gusts felled trees and knocked out power for up to 8.2 million residents across the eastern United States, while heavy snow made travel treacherous at higher elevations. Nationwide at least 47 were confirmed dead of storm-related causes.

"This was literally the storm of our lifetime," said Longport, N.J., Mayor Nick Russo, as he surveyed the damage on debris-littered streets of his Atlantic coast town Tuesday. "No one has seen this type of damage, not even in the 1962 storm. The amount of sand, wood and concrete that has actually come up from the streets — it's not a good scene."

Superstorm Sandy made landfall Monday evening on a destructive and deadly path across the Northeast.

Two hundred miles to the north in Mastic Beach, N.Y., Donna Vollaro, 53, covered her face with her hands and sobbed as she walked through her ranch-style home, which had been inundated by several feet of water.

The water had receded by Tuesday afternoon but left the Long Island house filled with mud. Everything inside destroyed.

"My bed was floating around in three feet of water. The floors are buckled. The walls are caved in. Everything I own is gone," she said.

Vollaro, who is disabled and unemployed, has no homeowner's insurance and said she recently spent her savings on renovating the home. Inside, the refrigerator lay on its side, the couch was soaked and the boiler was destroyed.

"Now I have nowhere to go. Just the clothes on my back. That's what I have," she said.

TODAY's Natalie Morales reports from Mantoloking, N.J., where an aerial view of the region shows fires burning and sand completely overtaking neighborhoods.

'Like a tsunami'
On New York's Coney Island, Mordechai Deutscher recalled watching floodwaters burst through the glass front doors of the Mermaid Manor Home for Adults, about two blocks from the famed boardwalk. Residents had been evacuated to upper floors.

"Everything was fine and dandy yesterday until high tide," said Deutscher, 58, administrator of the home. "All of a sudden within five minutes it was like a tsunami."

Sal and Lori Novello rode out the storm in their Long Island home, with candles providing the only light and a wind-up radio their connection to the outside world. Sal Novello, 50, said when water started rushing into their 5,000-square-foot Dutch colonial, "it sounded like Niagara Falls." They ended up with seven feet of water in the basement.

NBC's Lester Holt reports from New Jersey, where the eye of Superstorm Sandy came ashore, ripping apart the coastline and leaving millions without power. President Obama is expected to tour the area Wednesday with Governor Christie.

"They kind of warned us, and everybody knew it was coming," said Novello, a construction executive who lives in n Lindenhurst, N.Y. "Unfortunately it was everything they said it was."

Ken Pagliarulo, a 34-year-old computer consultant in Lindenhurst, watched from his window Monday night as a house burned to the ground. Water filled his living room and totaled his car in the garage. He shut down the power, shut down the gas and ran generators for electricity.

"Insane," he said.

In Washington, D.C., as Sandy made landfall, Russ Kelley had two bad options: stay inside after a giant oak fell on his roof or dash outside where massive winds whipped three downed — and live — power lines not far from his front door.

TODAY's Al Roker tours Atlantic City, N.J., with Mayor Lorenzo Langford, who re-addressed his feud about hurricane preparedness with Governor Chris Christie and laid out a plan to rebuild the city's iconic boardwalk that was torn apart by the storm.

Jason Decrow / AP

Firefighters work at the scene of a house fire in in Lindenhurst, New York, Monday.

"Here's the thing — the fire department advised us all to come out of our row houses because of this tree lying on top. But then there's this hurricane outside with 60 mile-per-hour gusts, still pouring rain, a couple of live wires down in the street and another live wire out in my yard," said Kelley.

"It seemed just safer to be in my house, tree and all," he said.

So Kelley brushed aside the wet oak limbs and took his dog, Clinton, back into the living room — just below the fallen, 60-foot tree — as his TV screen continued to flash images of the historic storm that had just crashed into his life.

Dangling crane
In Manhattan, the experience was sometimes more surreal than perilous, after subways and businesses shut down and power outages afflicted much of the city.

In the Chelsea neighborhood of Manhattan, retired local newspaper publisher Robert Trentlyon and his wife planned to stay in their darkened apartment Tuesday, although their son lives in a nearby complex that generates its own power. The Trentlyons had phone service and running water, and they routinely use the stairs to their brownstone apartment.

Robert is 83, but, he said: "I'm a good 83," as he planned to grab a flashlight and check whether the building's basement had flooded.

Timothy A. Clary / AFP - Getty Images

An apartment building sits damaged in New York City's Chelsea neighborhood Monday.

Some 900 guests were forced to evacuate Manhattan's Le Parker Meridien hotel because a storm-damaged crane dangled dangerously from a high-rise apartment building under construction nearby.

Authorities said they were worried the wilted crane above would tumble down, perhaps pinball into neighboring buildings and crush everything in its path on the ground.

The skyscraper, near Carnegie Hall, is officially called One57 but has been dubbed a "global billionaires' club" because its upper floors will include nine enormous, posh apartments — all sold to billionaires.

"So all of our hurricane food is upstairs in our hotel, we're on a quest to find another hotel, and technically, I'm homeless," said Al Lewis, a guest from Denver who had been staying in the hotel with his wife and two children. "I'm homeless because of these billionaires next door. But, everyone's going to get displaced by a billionaire someday — it's just my time, I guess."

Baking in the cold
Several states to the south, freezing bands of the same gargantuan storm began dumping snow onto tiny Belington, W.Va., (population 1,900). By 3 a.m. Tuesday, when Charlotte Cummings arrived to work at the Goody Basket, her bakery, there was already six inches of snow on the ground.

"Six inches is nothing for around here," Cummings said. "So I just started my day, started baking. Then, at about 8 a.m. the power went out because the snow is so wet and so many branches are coming down. Thankfully, I have gas so I could just keep going."

Bebeto Matthews / AP

The tail end of an SUV is perched on top of a mailbox in New York's Coney Island Monday.

By morning, a foot of snow had fallen — and another foot or more was expected before the slow-moving storm lumbered on. After daylight, three young men walked past the Goody Basket and told Cummings: "This is the first open sign we've seen!"

"They had some pepperoni rolls and some chocolate chip cookies," Cummings said. "I stayed open till about 2 o'clock (p.m.). In fact, before I came home, I just pulled the last pan out of the oven — three dozen pepperoni rolls."

Kelvin Redmond, an accountant and associate minister at the Shiloh Baptist Church in Rockville Centre on Long Island, lives two blocks from the water in a three-story split level, but hadn't been able to get back to check on damage because the streets were still impassable.

Ahead of the storm, he shut off all the power and moved his belongings, computers and irreplaceable items like photos to the third floor.

"It looks like it may be a total loss," he said Tuesday. "But I still have my health and strength. I'm also a minister, so I still — it's going to be a good word on Sunday."

NBC's Kari Huus, contributor Bill Briggs and The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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