The city had shut its mass transit system, schools, the stock exchange and Broadway and ordered hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers to leave home to get out of the way of the superstorm Sandy as it zeroed in on the nation's largest city.
Residents spent much of the day trying to salvage normal routines, jogging and snapping pictures of the water while officials warned the worst of the storm had not hit.
By evening, a record 13-foot storm surge was threatening Manhattan's southern tip, howling winds had sent a crane hanging from a high-rise, and utilities deliberately darkened part of downtown Manhattan to avoid storm damage.
Water lapped over the seawall in Battery Park City, flooding rail yards, subway tracks, tunnels and roads. Rescue workers floated bright orange rafts down flooded downtown streets, while police officers rolled slowly down the street with loudspeakers telling people to go home.
"Now it's really turning into something," said Brian Damianakes, taking shelter in an ATM vestibule and watching a trash can blow down the street in Battery Park.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg said Monday night that the surge was expected to recede by midnight, after exceeding an original expectation of 11 feet.
"The worst of the weather has come," he said. He said New Yorkers were inundating the 911 system and getting stranded in cars, and urged people to stay put until the storm passed.
"You have to stay wherever you are. Let me repeat that. You have to stay wherever you are," he said.
Shortly after the massive storm made landfall in southern New Jersey, Consolidated Edison cut power deliberately to about 6,500 customers in downtown Manhattan to avert further damage. Then, huge swaths of the city went dark, losing power to 250,000 customers in Manhattan, Con Ed spokesman Chris Olert said.
New York University's hospital lost backup power, Bloomberg said.
Another 1 million customers lost power earlier Monday in New York City, the northern suburbs and coastal Long Island, where floodwaters swamped cars, downed trees and put neighborhoods under water.
The storm had killed one New York City resident by Monday night, a man who died when a tree fell on his home in the Flushing section of Queens.
The rains and howling winds, some believed to reach more than 95 mph, left a crane hanging off a luxury high-rise in midtown Manhattan, causing the evacuation of hundreds from a posh hotel and other buildings.
Inspectors were climbing 74 flights of stairs to examine the crane hanging from the $1.5 billion.
The facade of a four-story Manhattan building in the Chelsea neighborhood crumbled and collapsed suddenly, leaving the lights, couches, cabinets and desks inside visible from the street. No one was hurt, although some of the falling debris hit a car.
On coastal Long Island, floodwaters swamped cars, downed trees and put neighborhoods under water as beachfronts and fishing villages bore the brunt of the storm. A police car was lost rescuing 14 people from the popular resort Fire Island.
The city shut all three of its airports, its subways, schools, stock exchanges, Broadway theaters and closed several bridges and tunnels throughout the day as the weather worsened.
Earlier, some New Yorkers defiantly soldiered on, trying to salvage normal routines and refusing to evacuate, as the mayor ordered 375,000 in low-lying areas to do.
On Long Island, floodwaters had begun to deluge some low-lying towns and nearly 150,000 customers had lost power. Cars floated along the streets of Long Beach and flooding consumed several blocks south of the bay, residents said.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo, said most of the National Guardsmen deployed to the New York City area would go to Long Island.
"Long Island has become more and more vulnerable and the primary area of our concentration," he said.
More Nation & World Headlines
Putin calls Turkey shoot-down of fighter jet ‘stab in the back’ 7:55 a.m. White Chicago cop expected to be charged in black teen’s death 7:37 a.m. Paris attacks: Suspect quizzed, Brussels still on lockdown 7:42 a.m. Turks shoot down Russia warplane near border Carson wants mosques, schools, supermarkets watched closely Social media helps drive historic Cuban exodus to US Income inequality makes the rich more Scrooge-like, study finds US envoy: Chemical attacks ‘becoming routine’ in Syria
Our new comment system is not supported in IE 7. Please upgrade your browser here.