Resuming life after superstorm Sandy

Last updated 15:31 01/11/2012
Reuters

Massive storm Sandy leaves a trail of destruction in New Jersery and New York. Deborah Lutterbeck reports.

A woman covers her face in frustration while waiting for hours in line to get fuel outside at a petrol station in the New York City borough of Queens.
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A woman covers her face in frustration while waiting for hours in line to get fuel outside at a petrol station in the New York City borough of Queens.
Obama tours Sandy damage
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US President Barack Obama is greeted by New Jersey Governor Chris Christie after he arrives at Atlantic City International Airport in New Jersey before surveying Hurricane Sandy damage.

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Flights have resumed, but slowly. The New York Stock Exchange got back to business, but on generator power. And with the subways still down, great numbers of people walked across the Brooklyn Bridge into Manhattan in a reverse of the exodus of 9/11.

Two days after superstorm Sandy rampaged across the northeast of the US, killing at least 62 people, New York struggles to find its way.

Swaths of the city were still without power Wednesday (overnight NZT), and all of it was torn from its daily rhythms.

At luxury hotels and drugstores and Starbucks shops that bubbled back to life, people clustered around outlets and electrical strips, desperate to recharge their phones.

In the Meatpacking District of Manhattan, a line of people filled pails with water from a fire hydrant. Two children used jack-o'-lantern trick-or-treat buckets.


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Governor Andrew Cuomo said that parts of the subway would begin running again Thursday, and that three of seven tunnels under the East River had been pumped free of water, removing a major obstacle to restoring full service.

"We are going to need some patience and some tolerance," he said.

On Wednesday, both were frayed. Bus service was free, but delayed, and New Yorkers jammed on, crowding buses so heavily that they skipped stops and rolled past hordes of waiting passengers.

New York City buses serve 2.3 million people on an average day, and two days after the storm they were trying to handle many of the 5.5 million daily subway riders, too.

As far west as Wisconsin and south to the Carolinas, more than six million homes and businesses were still without power, about four million of them in New York and New Jersey.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg said 500 patients were being evacuated from Bellevue Hospital because of storm damage.

The hospital has run on generators since the storm.

About 300 patients were evacuated from another Manhattan hospital Monday after it lost generator power.

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Still, there were signs that New York was flickering back to life and wasn't as isolated as it was a day earlier.

Flights resumed at Kennedy and Newark airports on what authorities described as a very limited schedule.

Nothing was taking off or landing at LaGuardia, which suffered far worse damage.

HALLOWEEN POSTPONED

New Jersey Republican Governor Chris Christie has issued an executive order moving his state's Halloween celebration to Monday, postponing trick-or-treating.

Wednesday's Halloween parade through New York's Greenwich Village was postponed as well, but some parents in the suburbs held daytime gatherings for their costumed offspring in parks and parking lots.

BUSINESS NOT AS USUAL

The stock exchange, operating on backup generators, came back to life after its first two-day weather shutdown since the blizzard of 1888.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg rang the opening bell to whoops from traders below.

"We jokingly said this morning we may be the only building south of midtown that has water, lights and food," said Duncan Niederauer, CEO of the company that runs the exchange, in hard-hit lower Manhattan.

Most Broadway shows returned for Wednesday matinees and evening shows.

Across the Hudson River in New Jersey, National Guardsmen in trucks delivered ready-to-eat meals and other supplies to heavily flooded Hoboken and rushed to evacuate people from the city's high-rises and brownstones. The mayor's office put out a plea for people to bring boats to City Hall for use in rescuing victims.

Natural gas fires erupted in Brick Township, where scores of homes were wrecked by the storm.

And some of the state's barrier islands, which took a direct hit from Sandy on Monday night, remained all but cut off.

President Barack Obama took a helicopter tour of the ravaged coast with New Jersey Governor Chris Christie.

"The entire country has been watching what's been happening. Everybody knows how hard Jersey has been hit," Obama said at a shelter in Brigantine, New Jersey.

He promised people there that the federal government was "here for the long haul".

In New York, masses of people walked shoulder-to-shoulder across the Brooklyn Bridge to get into Manhattan for work, reminiscent of the escape scenes from the September 11 terrorist attack and the blackout of 2003.

They entered an island sharply divided between those who had power and those who did not.

In Manhattan at night, it was possible to walk downtown along an avenue and move in an instant from a mostly normal New York scene - delis open, people milling outside bars - into a pitch-black cityscape, with police flares marking intersections.

People who did have power took to social media to offer help to neighbours.

"I have power and hot water. If anyone needs a shower or to charge some gadgets or just wants to bask in the beauty of artificial light, hit me up," Rob Hart of Staten Island posted on Facebook.

A respected New York steakhouse in the blackout zone, Old Homestead, realised its meat was going to go bad and decided to grill what was left and sell steaks on the sidewalk for US$10 (NZ$12). A centre-cut sirloin usually goes for US$47 (NZ$56).

Simon Massey and his nine-year-old son, Henry, took one last walk near their powerless apartment in downtown Manhattan before heading to a friend's place in Brooklyn where the electricity worked.

"We're jumping ship," he said.

"We gorged on eggs and sausage this morning before everything goes bad. We don't want to spend another three or four days here."

They live on the 10th floor of a 32-floor building, where they were flushing the toilet with water from their filled tub and cooking on their gas stove.

They found their way down the stairs with glowsticks and flashlights, and rationed iPad and phone use.

"I'm feeling scared," said Henry, who was home from third grade for a third straight day.

"It just feels really, really weird. New York's not supposed to be this quiet."

TRANSPORT TROUBLE

Travel in the US northeast creaked back into motion on Wednesday, but it was clear that stranded travellers will struggle to get around for days to come.

Two of the three major airports in the New York area re-opened with limited flights.

Most northeast rail service — the country’s busiest corridor — was suspended.

In New York City, some buses were running, and subway service was expected to restart today in limited fashion.

FlightStats said the storm caused more than 19,000 cancellations, including 2820 Wednesday.

The loss of East Coast flights stranded tourists in New York and kept travellers stuck in Hong Kong.

The lack of trains left suburban commuters without a way into work.

On Wednesday, the first trickle of air travellers reached New York since the storm hit. John F. Kennedy International and Newark Liberty International Airport in New Jersey both opened, but flights were limited.

New York’s third major airport, LaGuardia remained closed as officials assessed flood damage.

Several airlines had hoped to resume flying there on Thursday

Delta Air Lines Inc. said it operated about half of its planned flights at JFK.

United, the biggest airline at Newark, said it was flying several dozen domestic and international flights at that airport on Wednesday.

Other airlines, including American and Southwest, said they won’t resume New York flights until Thursday.

Major rail service in the region remained largely suspended. While some commuter lines were expected back Wednesday afternoon, Amtrak’s Northeast Regional service between Newark, New Jersey, and Boston remained closed, as did the Acela Express through the Northeast corridor between Washington, DC, and Boston. No date was set for resuming service.

Trains to and from New York’s Penn Station were still not operating because tunnels under the Hudson and East rivers were flooded.

It was clear that restoring the region to its ordinarily frenetic pace could take days — and that rebuilding the hardest-hit communities and the transportation networks that link them could take considerably longer.

The scale of the challenge could be seen across the Hudson River in New Jersey, where National Guard trucks rolled into heavily flooded Hoboken to deliver ready-to-eat meals and other supplies and to evacuate people from their condo high-rises, brownstones and other homes.

SUBWAY DAMAGE MASSIVE

The subway system suffered the worst damage in its 108-year history, with floodwaters rushing into tunnels and stations and threatening the electrical wiring. Experts said the cost of the repairs could be staggering.

Amtrak trains were still not running in or out of New York's Penn Station because of flooding in the tunnels.

Power company Consolidated Edison said it could also be the weekend before power is restored to Manhattan and Brooklyn, perhaps longer for other New York boroughs and the New York suburbs. Hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers lost power.

The recovery and rebuilding will take far longer.

When New Jersey's governor stopped in Belmar, during a tour of the devastation, one woman wept, and 42-year-old Walter Patrickis told him, "Governor, I lost everything."

Christie, who called the shore damage "unthinkable," said a full recovery would take months, at least, and it would probably be a week or more before power is restored to everyone who lost it.

"Now we've got a big task ahead of us that we have to do together. This is the kind of thing New Jerseyans are built for," he said.

Forecasting firm IHS Global Insight predicted it would cause US$20 billion (NZ$24.4b) in damage and US$10b to US$30b in lost business. Another firm, AIR Worldwide, estimated losses up to US$15b.

In Connecticut, some residents of Fairfield returned home in kayaks and canoes to inspect the flood damage.

"The uncertainty is the worst," said Jessica Levitt, who was told it could be a week before she can enter her house. "Even if we had damage, you just want to be able to do something. We can't even get started."

In New York, residents of the flooded beachfront neighborhood of Breezy Point in returned home to find fire had taken everything the water had not. A huge blaze destroyed perhaps 100 homes in the close-knit community where many had stayed behind despite being told to evacuate.

John Frawley acknowledged the mistake. Frawley, who lived about five houses from the fire's edge, said he spent the night terrified "not knowing if the fire was going to jump the boulevard and come up to my house."

"I stayed up all night," he said.

"The screams. The fire. It was horrifying."

NATURAL GAS LEAKS

New problems arose when firefighters were unable to reach blazes rekindled by natural gas leaks in the heavily hit shore town of Mantoloking. More than a dozen homes were destroyed.

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie issued an order postponing Halloween trick-or-treating until Monday, saying floodwaters, downed electrical wires, power outages and fallen trees made it too dangerous for children to go out.

President Barack Obama planned to visit Atlantic City, New Jersey, which was directly in the storm's path Monday night and saw part of its historic boardwalk washed away.

Outages in the state's two largest cities, Newark and Jersey City, left traffic signals dark, resulting in fender-benders at intersections where police were not directing traffic. At one Jersey City supermarket, there were long lines to get bread and use an electrical outlet to charge cellphones.

Amid the despair, talk of recovery was already beginning.

"It's heartbreaking after being here 37 years," Barry Prezioso of Point Pleasant, NJ, said as he returned to his house in the beachfront community.

"You see your home demolished like this, it's tough. But nobody got hurt and the upstairs is still livable, so we can still live upstairs and clean this out. I'm sure there's people that had worse. I feel kind of lucky."

As New York began its second day after the megastorm, morning rush-hour traffic was heavy as people started returning to work. There was even a sign of normalcy: commuters waiting at bus stops. School was out for a third day.

The Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel, connecting Brooklyn to Manhattan, and the Holland Tunnel, between New York and New Jersey, remained closed. But bridges into the city were open, and city buses were running, free of charge.

On the Brooklyn Bridge, closed earlier because of high winds, joggers and bikers made their way across before sunrise. One cyclist carried a flashlight. Car traffic on the bridge was busy.

STORM HEADS WEST

Remnants of the storm churned slowly over Pennsylvania on Wednesday (early today, NZT), the National Weather Service said. Winter storm warnings were in effect from south-western Pennsylvania to eastern Tennessee.

"Now we are looking at flooding on Lake Erie, possibly Lake Michigan," Napolitano said. "We're looking at secondary flooding downstream as rivers fill with the remnants of Sandy and the water has to go somewhere.

"We are now in recovery mode - response and recovery - we are moving large amounts of resources into the affected areas. It will be one of the most, probably if not the most extensive and expensive ... (storms) in our nation's history," she said.

MARATHON TO RUN ON

The New York City Marathon — the world’s largest — is a go for Sunday, and the 41km route will have the superstorm’s disaster for a backdrop.

The event that attracts more than 40,000 runners, including many from overseas, had had a question mark after Monday’s massive storm.

‘‘I think some people said you shouldn’t run the marathon,’’ Mayor Michael Bloomberg said at a news briefing Wednesday.

‘‘There’s an awful lot of small businesses that depend on these people. We have to have an economy. There’s lots of people that have come here. It’s a great event for New York, and I think for those who were lost, you’ve got to believe they would want us to have an economy and have a city go on for those that they left behind.’’

The marathon brings an estimated US$340 million in economic impact to the city.

New York Road Runners President Mary Wittenberg compared this year’s race to the 2001 marathon, held seven weeks after the September 11 terrorist attacks, as a way to inspire residents and show the world the city’s resilience.

Wittenberg expects the field will be smaller than the 47,500 who ran last year because some entrants can’t make it to New York, but she said organisers had received no more cancellations than normal.

Race organisers were still trying to assess how the widespread damage might affect plans, including getting runners into the city and transporting them to the start line on hard-hit Staten Island.

Easing their worries a bit was news that 14 of the city’s 23 subway lines were expected to be operating by Thursday morning - though none below 34th Street, an area that includes the city’s financial district and many tourist sites.

The marathon, however, doesn’t run through there.

Runners like Josh Maio felt torn about whether the race should go on.

‘‘It pulls resources and focus away from people in need,’’ said Maio, who dropped out due to an injury but is coaching about 75 runners.

While he agrees the race is a boost to local businesses, he is uncomfortable with the city devoting so much to an ‘‘extracurricular’’ event.

Top American Meb Keflezighi, the 2009 men’s champion, regards the marathon as ‘‘something positive... because it will be motivation to say, ‘Look what happened, and we’ll put on the race, and we’ll give them a good show.’’’

The 43rd edition of the marathon is set to include three Olympic medallists and the reigning women’s world champion.

Kenya’s Wilson Kipsang won bronze in the Olympic men’s marathon.

His challengers include 2011 Chicago Marathon champ Moses Mosop of Kenya and 2010 New York winner Gebre Gebremariam of Ethiopia.

Ethiopia’s Tiki Gelana won gold and Russia’s Tatyana Arkhipova was third in the women’s race in London.

Edna Kiplagat of Kenya won a world title a year earlier.

-AP and Reuters

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