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Death Toll From Superstorm Sandy Climbs; Clean Up Begins

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP)  -- President Barack Obama will be visiting storm-stricken New Jersey on Wednesday to view damage and thank first responders after superstorm Sandy wreaked havoc across the Tri-State area.

The president offered his thoughts and prayers to those affected and said "America is with you.''

"During the darkness of the storm I think we also saw what's brightest in America," Obama said. "We've seen nurses at NYU Hospital carrying fragile newborns to safety, we've seen incredibly  brave firefighters in Queens waist-deep in water battling infernos and rescuing people in boats."

WATCH: Obama's Statement On Aftermath Of Hurricane Sandy

Early Tuesday morning, Obama declared a major disaster in New York and Long Island, making federal funding available to people in the area. He also signed a disaster declaration for New Jersey.

More than 8.2 million people across the East were without power. Airlines canceled more than 15,000 flights around the world, and it could be days before the mess is untangled and passengers can get where they're going.

EXTRA: Power Outages | Road & Tunnel Closures | Sandy Claims Lives | Subway Tunnels Flood | Submit Your Pictures | Sandy In Photos | Videos WATCH: CBS 2 LISTEN: 1010 WINS | WCBS 880

Lower Manhattan was among the hardest-hit areas after the storm sent a nearly 14-foot surge of seawater, a record, coursing over its seawalls and highways and into low-lying streets.

An explosion at a Con Edison substation knocked out power to hundreds of thousands of customers in Manhattan, officials said.

"We had about 6,500 people out in Manhattan before that event. After that event, we spiked to a quarter-million people," said Con Ed spokesman Bob McGee.

Joseph Lhota, chairman of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, said the damage was the worst in the 108-year history of the New York subway.

"Hurricane Sandy wreaked havoc on our entire transportation system, in every borough and county of the region," Lhota said.

The saltwater surge inundated subway signals, switches and the electrified third rails, and covered tracks with sludge. Workers began pumping the water out and will ultimately have to walk the hundreds of miles of track to inspect it.

WATCH: Gov. Andrew Cuomo On Sandy's Aftermath

By noon Tuesday, all bridges connecting New York City with its surrounding areas had reopened with the exception of the Rockaway bridges. The Holland Tunnel and Brooklyn-Battery tunnel remained closed due to flooding. The Lincoln Tunnel is open.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Tuesday that the Army Corps of engineer is sending best national team to New York.

"We need them very badly," he said.

The death toll climbed rapidly to 40 and included 19 victims in New York State -- 12 of them in New York City -- along with five dead in Pennsylvania, three in Conn. and five in New Jersey. Sandy also killed 69 people in the Caribbean before making its way up the Eastern Seaboard.

Some of the deaths include two children, ages 11 and 13, who were killed in North Salem. The two boys were playing outside a small bungalow when a 3-foot-long tree came crashing down.

Another person was killed in an accident in Queens and a woman was found dead at 134th Street and 105th Avenue. Fire officials said she was electrocuted.

National Guard troops continued rescue missions Tuesday of people who trapped in their homes. In New York City, Long Island and Westchester, the National Guard conducted 156 rescue missions, Cuomo said.

A downtown hospital, New York University's Tisch, evacuated 200 patients after its backup generator failed. About 20 babies from the neonatal intensive care unit were carried down staircases and on battery-powered respirators.

A construction crane that collapsed in the high winds on Monday still dangled precariously 74 floors above the streets of midtown Manhattan.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg said Tuesday that the crane was stable and as soon as winds die down, crews will secure the massive structure and find a way to safely bring it down.

On Staten Island, a tanker ship wound up beached on the shore.

In New Jersey, Sandy destroyed several blocks of Atlantic City's world-famous boardwalk and wrecked several other boardwalks up and down the coast. A Seaside Heights roller coaster was left partially submerged in the ocean.

Gov. Chris Christie said Tuesday that the megastorm caused "a major disaster" in the Garden State.

"I've gone through Irene, the October snow storm, the blizzard in 2010 — this is by far the worst thing we've gone through."

Remnants of the hurricane were forecast to head across Pennsylvania before taking another sharp turn into western New York by Wednesday morning. Although weakening as it goes, the storm will continue to bring heavy rain and flooding, said Daniel Brown of the National Hurricane Center in Miami.

Just before it made landfall at 8 p.m. near Atlantic City, N.J., forecasters stripped Sandy of hurricane status, but the distinction was purely technical, based on its shape and internal temperature.

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.

About 360,000 people in 30 Connecticut towns were urged to leave their homes under mandatory and voluntary evacuation orders.

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(TM and Copyright 2012 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2012 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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