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Sandy wreaks devastation on US east coast

Post-tropical cyclone Sandy has hit the US east coast, sending crippling floods onto the streets of New York. A number of people have reportedly been killed and millions have been left without power.

The death toll in the United States from post-tropical cyclone Sandy stands at 13. Local news reports say more than half of these deaths were from falling trees.

New York and New Jersey appear to have been the worst affected with powerful winds and torrential rain pummeling the area.

Five people were reported dead in New York state, including one man who was killed by a falling tree in New York City. Subway and car tunnels have been submerged by floodwater and power outages have plunged the city into darkness.

In New Jersey two people were killed when a tree fell onto their car. Meanwhile a nuclear plant, just north of casino resort Atlantic City is on alert due to rising ocean water. A spokesman for the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission said the Oyster Creek nuclear power reactor declared the alert over fears the flood waters could affect the reactor's service water pumps.

Further casualties were reported in Connecticut and West Virginia.

The center of the former Hurricane Sandy made landfall along the New Jersey coast near Atlantic City at around 8 p.m. local time on Monday (midnight Tuesday GMT). Despite losing hurricane status as it neared the coast, the National Hurricane Center in Miami reported the storm still sustained winds of 137 kph.

A total of 50 million people are in Sandy's path, from the mid-Atlantic to Canada. In total, more than three million customers were left without power, while more than a million people were subject to evacuation orders. 

US stock markets were closed for the first time since the attacks of September 11, 2001, and are expected to remain shut on Tuesday. Some 12,000 flights were also canceled until Wednesday, according to a tracking service.

Tall ship abandoned

Earlier on Monday Sandy forced the abandonment of a tall ship, the Bounty, off North Carolina. Coastguard helicopters plucked 14 crew members to safety, and later recovered the body of an "unresponsive" 42-year-old woman. The search for the 63-year-old ship captain continues.

The vessel, a replica of the British ship known for its mutiny off Tahiti in 1789, sank in 18-foot (5.5 meter) seas.

Sandy had already been blamed for 65 deaths, mainly in Haiti, Jamaica and Cuba, before drifting north.

Storm shifts campaign

Obama, who faces Romney in the November 6 US presidential election, canceled campaign appearances in Florida before the storm hit on Monday. "Right now our number one priority is to make sure that we are saving lives," he said.

Republican challenger Mitt Romney also canceled most of his campaign events, saying through a spokesman that leaders should "come together to focus on those Americans who are in harm's way."

In 2005, Republican President George W. Bush came under fire for his administration's handling of Hurricane Katrina and the floods that followed, devastating New Orleans.

jr,ccp/jlw (AFP, Reuters, dpa, AP)