New York-At least 16 people were killed and over six million people faced power outages amid gale-force winds as superstorm Sandy slammed into the US’ East Coast, triggering a long night of misery and causing damage worth billions of dollars.

The situation in one of the world’s most advanced cities New York became so desperate that nurses in at least one hospital manually pumped respirators to keep patients alive. Dramatic scenes were witnessed as the tragedy unfolded.

Superstorm Sandy has claimed at least 16 lives and darkened wide swathes of the US East Coast since making landfall along the southern New Jersey coast late Monday, reported Xinhua.

Though downgraded to a “post-tropical” superstorm Monday evening by the National Hurricane Centre, Sandy unleashed powerful winds and torrential rains from North Carolina to Maine and knocked out power across 11 states and the national capital.

Subways and bridges were shut down as winds howled over a huge region encompassing hundreds of miles. Thousands of flights had to be cancelled, and hundreds of roads were flooded.

The New York Stock Exchange was to be closed for a second day Tuesday, after trading was stopped on Monday for the first time since the Sep 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

Sandy threw an unprecedented 13 ft surge of seawater at New York, flooding streets, airport runways, and even sections of the city’s subways lines. The subway system was shut down Sunday night ahead of the storm.

Arriving in Atlantic City at about 8 p.m. Monday with maximum sustained winds of 130 kph, Sandy churned up huge waves that smashed parts of the city’s famed seaside boardwalk.

Eyewitnesses said a window of a seafront casino was blown out and many trees lining the streets were torn down, leaving numerous branches scattered on the roads.

In New York City, emergency backup power failed and 10 ft of water flooded the basement of NYU Langone Medical Center, forcing the evacuation of 260 patients. Nurses manually pumped air to the lungs of those on respirators, reported CNN.

Lower Manhattan’s Battery Park recorded a nearly 13 ft high tide, breaking a record set in 1960 with Hurricane Donna. The city halted service on its bus and train lines, closing schools and ordering about 400,000 people out of their homes in low-lying areas of Manhattan and elsewhere.

As New York’s skyscrapers were being battered, a crane snapped and dangled from the side of a luxury high-rise under construction Far above West 57th Street.

The iconic Grand Central Station in New York bore an eerily deserted look and the subway shut down for only the second time in its history.

Hurricane-force winds stretched from Cape Cod to the Virginia coast as Sandy swept ashore, with its storm surge setting new high-water records for lower Manhattan and swamping beachfronts on both sides of Long Island Sound.

Mass transit shut down across the densely populated Northeast, landmarks stood empty and schools and government offices were closed. The National Grid, which provides power to millions of customers, said 60 million people could be affected before it’s over.

“I’ve been down here for about 16 years, and it’s shocking what I’m looking at now. It’s unbelievable,” Montgomery Dahm, owner of the Tun Tavern in Atlantic City, which stayed open as Sandy neared the Jersey Shore, was quoted as saying.

“I mean, there’s cars that are just completely underwater in some of the places I would never believe that there would be water.”

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg said New Yorkers were making 10,000 emergency calls every 30 minutes and appealed to residents to report only true dangers.

“It means that genuine emergencies are not being answered,” Bloomberg said.

The National Weather Service warned that the Potomac River, which runs through Washington, would probably experience its worst flooding since a rapid snow melt after the blizzard of 1996.

Disaster estimating firm Eqecat forecast that Sandy could cause up to $20 billion in damage and possibly become one of the costliest natural disasters in American history.

Among the tales of misery, there were stories of dramatic rescue efforts.

The US Coast Guard rescued 14 sailors flung into the sea from their sinking three-masted replica of the historic ship HMS Bounty that had starred in several Hollywood adventure films. IANS