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Millions in Northeast struggle after massive storm

NEW YORK (Reuters) - The northeastern United States battled epic flood waters and lengthy power outages on Tuesday after the massive storm Sandy pummeled the coast with a record storm surge, high winds and heavy rains that killed at least 45 people and caused billions of dollars in losses.

Millions of people in New York City and other hard-hit areas will spend days or weeks recovering from a storm already seen as far more destructive that Hurricane Irene, which slammed into the same region a year ago. One disaster modeling company said Sandy may have caused up to $15 billion in insured losses.

The storm killed 18 people in New York City, among 23 total in New York state, while six died in New Jersey. Seven other states reported fatalities.

Some 8.2 million homes and businesses in several states were without electricity as trees toppled by Sandy's fierce winds took down power lines.

Sandy hit the coast with a week to go to the November 6 presidential election and turned its fury inland with heavy snowfall, dampening an unprecedented drive to encourage early voting and raising questions whether some polling stations will be ready to open on Election Day.

New York City will struggle without its subway system, which was inundated and will remain shut for days. Much of the Wall Street district was left underwater but officials hoped to have financial markets reopen on Wednesday.

Sandy was the biggest storm to hit the country in generations when it crashed ashore with hurricane-force winds on Monday near the New Jersey gambling resort of Atlantic City, devastating the Jersey Shore tourist haven. Flood waters lifted parked cars and deposited them on an otherwise deserted highway.

With the political campaign and partisanship on hold, Democratic President Barack Obama and Republican New Jersey Governor Chris Christie planned to tour New Jersey disaster areas on Wednesday.

"It's total devastation down there. There are boats in the street five blocks from the ocean," said Peter Sandomeno, an owner of the Broadway Court Motel in Point Pleasant Beach, New Jersey.

Christie, who has been a strong supporter of Republican presidential challenger Mitt Romney, praised Obama and the federal response to the storm.

Obama and Romney put campaigning on hold for a second day but Romney planned to hit the trail again in Florida on Wednesday and Obama seemed likely to resume campaigning on Thursday for a final five-day sprint to Election Day.

Obama faces political danger if the government fails to respond well, as was the case with predecessor George W. Bush's botched handling of Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Obama has a chance to show that his administration has learned the lessons of Katrina and that he can lead during a crisis.

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