"We are looking at the highest storm surges ever recorded" in the Northeast, said Jeff Masters, meteorology director for Weather Underground, a private forecasting service.
Sitting on the dangerous northeast wall of the storm, the New York metropolitan area got the worst of it.
An explosion at a ConEdison substation knocked out power to about 310,000 customers in Manhattan, said Miksad.
"We see a pop. The whole sky lights up," said Dani Hart, 30, who was watching the storm from the roof of her building in the Navy Yards.
"It sounded like the Fourth of July," Stephen Weisbrot said from his 10th-floor apartment.
New York University's Tisch Hospital was forced to evacuate 200 patients after its backup generator failed. NYU Medical Dean Robert Grossman said patients — among them 20 babies from neonatal intensive care that were on battery-powered respirators — had to be carried down staircases and to dozens of waiting ambulances.
Not only was the subway shut down, but the Holland Tunnel connecting New York to New Jersey was closed, as was a tunnel between Brooklyn and Manhattan. The Brooklyn Bridge, the George Washington Bridge, the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge and several other spans were closed due to high winds.
The three major airports in the New York area — LaGuardia, Newark Liberty and Kennedy — remained shut down Tuesday.
A construction crane atop a $1.5 billion luxury high-rise in midtown Manhattan collapsed in high winds and dangled precariously. Thousands of people were ordered to leave several nearby buildings as a precaution, including 900 guests at the ultramodern Le Parker Meridien hotel.
Alice Goldberg, 15, a tourist from Paris, was watching television in the hotel — whose slogan is "Uptown, Not Uptight" — when a voice came over the loudspeaker and told everyone to leave.
"They said to take only what we needed, and leave the rest, because we'll come back in two or three days," she said as she and hundreds of others gathered in the luggage-strewn marble lobby. "I hope so."