NEW YORK - Rain and howling winds shuttered most of the nation's largest city and sent a huge crane dangling precariously from a luxury high-rise Monday as Hurricane Sandy zeroed in on New York's waterfront with a massive storm surge.
The threat of an 11-foot wall of water prompted officials to close the mass transit system and consider cutting power to Wall Street and all of lower Manhattan to avoid saltwater damage.
"The worst of it is about to hit," Mayor Michael Bloomberg said early Monday evening.
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.
No deaths or injuries were reported, but the collapsed crane suspended over midtown caused the evacuation of hundreds from a posh hotel and other buildings. Inspectors were climbing 74 flights of stairs to examine it.
Meteorologists said the winds could have been close to 95 mph at the top of the $1.5 billion building when the crane tipped.
How Hurricane Sandy and two other storm systems are impacting New York state:
-POWER OUTAGES: More than 746,000 as of 6:30 p.m., most of them in New York City, Long Island and the northern suburbs.
-EVACUATIONS: 375,000 have been ordered to leave flood-prone zones in New York City.
-SHELTERS: About 3,100 people and 73 pets staying at 76 shelters in New York City, which has 16,000 shelter beds; several others are open in Hudson Valley.
-INJURIES/DEATHS: None reported.
-CLOSINGS: All New York City schools, which will also be closed Tuesday; many school districts in Hudson Valley are closed Monday, and a few have canceled classes Tuesday. Other upstate districts are sending students home early Monday. Public and private universities are closing. New York metro area subways, buses and commuter railroads shut down, along with Amtrak service in the Northeast. The Hugh E. Carey Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel and the Holland Tunnel are closing at 2 p.m. Monday. Many local government offices are closing early Monday and some plan to be closed Tuesday.
-HIGHLIGHT: A construction crane collapsed in high winds and dangled from atop a $1.5 billion luxury high-rise in midtown Manhattan.
-QUOTE OF THE DAY: "Poor Cyclone. It's what, 85 years old? I hope she makes it." - Stephen Rodriguez, a part-time employee at Luna Park on Coney Island as he looked at the aging wooden rollercoaster near the shore.
The city shut its subways, schools, stock exchanges, Broadway theaters and closed several bridges and tunnels throughout the day as the weather worsened. The airports stayed open, but major carriers cancelled all flights - about one-quarter of the nation's air traffic.
But 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.
Mark Vial pushed a stroller holding his 2-year-old daughter Maziyar toward his apartment building in Battery Park City, an area that was ordered evacuated.
"We're high up enough, so I'm not worried about flooding," said Via, 35. "There's plenty of food. We'll be OK.
But by early evening, the water in New York Harbor was rising and winds sent a trash can blowing down the street in Battery Park City. Brian Damianakes, 47, took shelter in an ATM vestibule.
"I decided to go for a run about five minutes ago but now I'm thinking maybe not," he said. "Now it's really turning into something."
On New York's 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, holding a news conference on Long Island where the lights flickered and his mike went in and out, said most of the National Guards 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.
In the fishing village of Greenport, Sean Seal piled dirt and sandbags onto the alleyway behind his collectibles store where the water was steadily creeping up the street toward his front door. He only opened the shop about two months ago.
"We put everything up. Up on tables, up on shelves, as far as we could," he said. "It's gonna be devastating. We'll lose a lot of stuff."
Anoush Vargas drove with her husband, Michael to the famed Jones Beach Monday morning, only to find it covered by water.
"We have no more beach. It's gone," she said, shaking her head as she watched the waves go under the boardwalk.
The center the storm, a combination of Sandy, a wintry system from the West and cold air streaming from the Arctic, was expected to hit the city under a full moon later Monday night. Surging waters of between 6 and 11 feet could flood subway tunnels, knock out the underground network of power, phone and high-speed Internet lines that are the lifeblood of America's financial capital.
Waters rose, but hadn't breached the seawall by early Monday evening.
Despite the dire forecasts, many chose to embrace what was coming.
Tanja Stewart and her 7-year-old son, Finn, came from their home in Manhattan's TriBeCa neighborhood to admire the white caps on the Hudson, Finn wearing a pair of binoculars around his neck. "I really wanted to see some big waves," he said.
Nearby, Keith Reilly climbed up on a rail next to the rising waters of New York Harbor so his friend Eli Rowe could snap a photo of him in an Irish soccer jersey with the Statue of Liberty in the background.
"This is not so bad right now," said the 25-year-old Reilly. "We'll see later."
And New Yorkers Andrew Rotz and Alex Grvymala, two young investment bankers on the Battery, wearing shorts and t-shirts, were jogging all over Lower Manhattan. Rotz said they wanted to blow off some energy before the storm hit.
"It's seems like this one's for real," Grvymala said of the coming storm.
Associated Press writers Karen Matthews, Colleen Long and Deepti Hajela in New York, Larry Neumeister, Frank Eltman and Meghan Barr on Long Island, and Seth Borenstein in Kensington, Md., contributed to this report.