Sandy, one of the biggest storms ever to hit the United States, roared ashore with fierce winds and heavy rain Monday near the gambling resort of Atlantic City, forcing evacuations, shutting down transportation and interrupting the presidential campaign.

According to CNN, 15 were confirmed dead in the U.S. and one in Canada.

High winds and flooding racked hundreds of kilometers of Atlantic coastline while heavy snows were forecast farther inland as the center of the storm marched westward.

U.S. President Barack Obama has declared a major disaster in New York and Long Island.

The declaration makes federal funding available to people in the area, which bore the brunt of the sea surge from a superstorm that hit the East Coast on Monday.

Reports said there was widespread flooding throughout New York City, in some cases well inland. Police confirmed at least two people were killed by the storm in the city, and deaths were reported as far away as Toronto as well.

A fire has destroyed at least 50 homes in a flooded neighborhood in the New York City borough of Queens. A fire department spokesman said more than 190 firefighters were at the blaze in the Breezy Point section. He said two people have suffered minor injuries. Officials said the blaze was reported around 11 p.m. Monday.

In northern New Jersey, a levee broke on Tuesday, flooding the towns of Moonachie, Little Ferry and Carlstadt with 1.2 to 1.5 meters (4 to 5 feet) of water in the wake of Hurricane Sandy, officials told Reuters.

"We are in rescue mode," said Jeanne Baratta, chief of the Bergen County Executive. There were no reports of fatalities as of yet, she said, adding that the three towns had been "devastated" by the flood of water.

Nuclear plant shuts down unit as storm hits coast

Part of a nuclear power plant was shut down late Monday while another plant - the nation's oldest - was put on alert after waters from superstorm Sandy rose six feet (1.8 meters) above sea level.

One of the units at Indian Point, a plant about 72 kilometers (45 miles) north of New York City, was shut down around 10:45 P.M. because of external electrical grid issues said Entergy Corp., which operates the plant. The company said there was no risk to employees or the public.

The oldest U.S. nuclear power plant, New Jersey's Oyster Creek, was already out of service for scheduled refueling. But high water levels at the facility, which sits along Barnegat Bay, prompted safety officials to declare an "unusual event" at around 7 P.M. About two hours later, the situation was upgraded to an "alert," the second-lowest in a four-tiered warning system.

Conditions remained safe at all U.S. nuclear plants, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, which oversees plant safety, said.

The storm's wind field stretched from the Canadian border to South Carolina, and from West Virginia to an Atlantic Ocean point about halfway between the United States and Bermuda, easily one of the largest ever seen.

More than 3 million customers already were without power by early evening and more than one million people were subject to evacuation orders. Many communities were swamped by flood waters.

The National Hurricane Center said Sandy came ashore as a "post-tropical cyclone," meaning it still packed hurricane-force winds but lost the characteristics of a tropical storm. It had sustained winds of 129 kilometers per hour, well above the threshold for hurricane intensity.

The storm's target area includes big population centers such as New York City, Washington, Baltimore and Philadelphia. Trees were downed across the region, untethered pieces of scaffolding rolled down the ghostly streets of New York City, falling debris closed a major bridge in Boston and floodwater inundated side streets in the resort town of Dewey Beach, Delaware, leaving just the tops of mailboxes in view.

In Fairfield, a Connecticut coastal town and major commuter point into Manhattan, police cruisers blocked the main road leading to the beaches and yellow police tape cordoned off side entrances. Beach pavilions were boarded up with plywood, and gusts of wind rocked parked cars.

"People are definitely not taking this seriously enough," said police officer Tiffany Barrett. "Our worst fear is something like Katrina and we can't get to people."

U.S. stock markets were closed for the first time since the attacks of September 11, 2001. The federal government in Washington was closed and schools were shut up and down the East Coast.

One disaster forecasting company predicted economic losses could ultimately reach $20 billion, only half insured.

Governors up and down the East Coast declared states of emergency. Maryland's Martin O'Malley warned there was no question Sandy would kill people in its path.

Two people died in the New York borough of Queens, a man in a house hit by a falling tree and a woman who stepped into an electrified puddle of water. Toronto police also recorded one death, a woman hit by flying debris.

Water rising

Sandy made landfall just south of Atlantic City, about 190 kilometers southwest of Manhattan. Casinos in the gambling destination had already shut down.

Television images showed water rising to historic heights in lower Manhattan, raising the possibility of flooding in the city's subway system. The New York Daily News reported that water was six feet deep outside its offices in lower Manhattan.

New York electric utility Con Edison said it expected "record-size outages," with 588,000 customers in the city and nearby Westchester County without power. The company is facing both falling trees knocking down power lines from above and flood waters swamping underground systems from below.

A Reuters witness said 19 Con Edison workers were trapped by rising floodwaters in a power station on the east side of Manhattan.

City officials evacuated neighbors of a 90-story super luxury apartment building under construction after its crane partially collapsed in high winds, prompting fears the entire rig could crash to the ground.

As runways, roads, bridges and tunnels were progressively shut down by the storm on Monday, it became difficult if not impossible to get from Washington to New York City along what is normally one of the most heavily traveled corridors in the U.S.

While Sandy does not have the intensity of Hurricane Katrina, which devastated New Orleans in 2005, it has been gathering strength. It killed 66 people in the Caribbean last week before pounding U.S. coastal areas as it moved north.

An AccuWeather meteorologist said Sandy "is unfolding as the Northeast's Katrina," and others said Sandy could be the largest storm to hit the mainland in U.S. history.

Presidential campaign in peril

The storm interrupted the U.S. presidential campaign with eight days to go before the election, as President Barack Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney canceled events. Both men acted cautiously to avoid coming across as overtly political while millions of people are imperiled.

Off North Carolina, the U.S. Coast Guard rescued 14 of the 16 crew members who abandoned the replica ship HMS Bounty, using helicopters to lift them from life rafts. The Coast Guard later recovered the body of an "unresponsive" 42-year-old woman while continuing to search for the 63-year-old captain of the ship, which sank in 5.5 meters seas.

On the small New York island neighborhood of City Island, which juts into Long Island Sound east of the Bronx, many residents were ignoring a mandatory evacuation order. The narrow island, known for its seafood joints and maritime themed antique shops, is home to an isolated, working-class community of New Yorkers who say they're used to big storms and flooding.

Joe Connelly, 52, a trucker from the Bronx, was leaving the City Island Marina after checking on his two motor boats. He said he watched the water from the first storm-driven high tide swamp a nearby dock.

"We were concerned that the whole dock was going to float away and out to sea," he said. "It had about four feet to go before that happened."