The words “mega,” “super” and “awesome” are used so much, they often are empty of meaning. But on Monday night, the superstorm Sandy lived up to description as one of the largest storms ever to hit the East Coast, New Jersey and New York City bearing the brunt of the ferocious assault of nature.

The storm system, which had battered the Caribbean islands last week, made landfall with stunning force, the heavy rains and sustained winds up to 90 mph leaving a trail of devastation that stretches hundreds of miles inland. High winds, flooding and downed power lines left an estimated 8 million people without power across 18 northeast and Mid-Atlantic states, including parts of Northeast Ohio. Two feet of snow fell in West Virginia as Sandy merged with another weather system. Rain and hurricane-force wind gusts reached across the Great Lakes into northern Ohio.

The storm has upended millions of lives. In the Queens borough of New York City, a storm-related fire reduced to ashes more than 100 houses. So far, more than 50 deaths have been attributed to the storm, many of them casualties of falling trees.

With the extent of the impact of the storm still being reckoned, the initial estimate of the damage is $20 billion. Stalled mass transit systems in New Jersey and New York City have grounded millions of commuters. From the shuttered casinos of Atlantic City to the stock exchange in New York City and flooded businesses along the East Coast and beyond, Sandy has dealt a powerful blow, a major setback to economic life when the economic recovery remains wobbly.

It will take days to tally the cost of the devastation as the weakened storm dissipates inland. Recovery will take many more weeks and months. In an emergency that cuts across multiple states, it is clear once again the critical role only the federal government can play effectively: To mobilize, coordinate and finance disaster relief on a scale no single state government can accomplish.