Struggle to resume daily life after Sandy

2012-10-31 15:18
A National Guard truck drives through high water on Newark Street in Hoboken, New Jersey in the wake of superstorm Sandy. (Craig Ruttle, AP)

A National Guard truck drives through high water on Newark Street in Hoboken, New Jersey in the wake of superstorm Sandy. (Craig Ruttle, AP)

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2012-10-31 10:53

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New York — People in the heavily populated US East Coast corridor battered by superstorm Sandy took the first cautious steps to reclaim their upended daily routines, even as rescuers combed neighbourhoods strewn with debris and scarred by floods and fire.

But while New York City buses returned to darkened streets eerily free of traffic and the New York Stock Exchange was set to re-open its storied trading floor on Wednesday, it became 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 together could take considerably longer.

"We will get through the days ahead by doing what we always do in tough times — by standing together, shoulder to shoulder, ready to help a neighbour, comfort a stranger and get the city we love back on its feet," New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg said.

The scale of the challenge was clear across the Hudson River in New Jersey, where National Guard troops arrived in the heavily flooded city of Hoboken to help evacuate thousands still stuck in their homes.

And new problems arose when firefighters were unable to reach blazes rekindled by natural gas leaks in the heavily hit shore town of Mantoloking.

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.

Obama planning visit

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

President Barack Obama was planning to visit New Jersey on Wednesday to see the area near Atlantic City where the violent storm made landfall two days before.

With the presidential election just six days away, Obama was cancelling campaign events for the third straight day to focus on coordinating the response to the superstorm. His Republican rival Mitt Romney planned to resume full-scale campaigning in Florida on Wednesday.

By late Tuesday, the winds and flooding inflicted by the fast-weakening Sandy had subsided, leaving at least 55 people dead along the Atlantic Coast and splintering beachfront homes and boardwalks from the mid-Atlantic states to southern New England.

The storm later moved across Pennsylvania on a predicted path toward western New York State and Canada.

At the height of the disaster, more than 8.2 million customers lost electricity — some as far away as Michigan. Nearly a quarter of those without power were in New York, where lower Manhattan's usually bright lights remained dark for a second night.

Subway damage

But, amid the despair, talk of recovery was already beginning.

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

Much of the initial recovery efforts focused on New York City, the region's economic heart. Bloomberg said it could take four or five days before the subway, which suffered the worst damage in its 108-year history, is running again.

All 10 of the tunnels that carry commuters under the East River were flooded. But high water prevented inspectors from immediately assessing damage to key equipment, raising the possibility that the nation's largest city could endure an extended shutdown of the system that 5 million people count on to get to work and school each day.

The chairperson of the state agency that runs the subway, Joseph Lhota, said service might have to resume piecemeal, and experts said the cost of the repairs could be staggering.

Power company Consolidated Edison said it would be four days before the last of the 337 000 customers in Manhattan and Brooklyn who lost power have electricity again and it could take a week to restore outages in the Bronx, Queens, Staten Island and Westchester County.

'Unthinkable' damage


Floodwater led to explosions that disabled a power substation Monday night, contributing to the outages.

Surveying the widespread damage, it was clear much of the recovery and rebuilding will take far longer.

When New Jersey Governor Chris Christie stopped in Belmar, New Jersey, during a tour of the devastation, one woman wept openly 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 likely 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.

Christie said that when he speaks with Obama on Wednesday, he plans to ask the president to assign the US Army Corps of Engineers to start working on how to rebuild beaches and find "the best way to rebuild the beach to protect these towns".

Schools closed


By sundown on Tuesday, however, announcements from officials and scenes on the streets signalled that New York and nearby towns were edging toward a semblance of routine.

First came the re-opening of highways in Connecticut and bridges across the Hudson and East rivers, although the Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel, connecting Brooklyn to Manhattan, and the Holland Tunnel, between New York and New Jersey, remained closed.

A limited number of the white and blue buses that crisscross New York's grid returned on Tuesday evening to Broadway and other thoroughfares on a reduced schedule — but free of charge. Gov. Andrew Cuomo said he hoped there would be full service by Wednesday. Still, school was cancelled for a third straight day on Wednesday in the city, where many students rely on buses and subways to reach classrooms.

In one bit of good news, officials announced that John F Kennedy International Airport in New York and Newark International Airport in New Jersey would re-open at 07:00 on Wednesday with limited service. New York's LaGuardia Airport remains closed.

The New York Stock Exchange was set to open again on Wednesday after being closed for two days — the first weather-related, two-day closure since the 19th century — but trading was scheduled to resume on Wednesday morning with Bloomberg ringing the opening bell.

Unfolding pain, damage


Amtrak also laid out plans to resume some passenger train service in the Northeast on Wednesday. But flooding continues to prevent service to and from New York's Penn Station.

Amtrak said the amount of water in train tunnels under the Hudson and East rivers is unprecedented. There will be no Northeast Regional service between New York and Boston. No date has been set for when it might resume.

But even with the return of some transportation and plans to re-open schools and businesses, the damage and pain inflicted by Sandy continued to unfold, confirming the challenge posed by rebuilding.

In New Jersey, amusement rides that once crowned a pier in Seaside Heights were dumped into the ocean, some homes were smashed, and others were partially buried in sand.

Farther north in Hoboken, across the Hudson from Manhattan, New Jersey National Guard troops arrived on Tuesday night with high-wheeled vehicles to reach thousands of flood victims stuck in their homes.

They arrived to find a town with live wires dangling in the floodwaters that Mayor Dawn Zimmer said were rapidly mixing with sewage. At nightfall, the city turned almost completely dark.

Numerous accidents


About 2.1 million homes and businesses remained without power across New Jersey late on Tuesday. When Tropical Storm Irene struck last year, it took more than a week to restore power everywhere. The state's largest utility, PSE&G, said it was trying to dry out substations it had to shut down.

Outages in the state's two largest cities, Newark and Jersey City, left traffic signals dark, resulting in numerous minor accidents at intersections where police were not directing traffic. And in one Jersey City supermarket, there were long lines to get bread and a spot at an outlet to charge cellphones.

Trees and power lines were down in every corner of the state. Schools and state government offices were closed for a second day, and many called off classes for Wednesday, too.

The governor said the Path trains connecting northern New Jersey with Manhattan would be out of service for at least seven to 10 days because of flooding. All the New Jersey Transit rail lines were damaged, he said, and it was not clear when the rail lines would be able to open.



- Are you there or have you been affected? Send us your eyewitness accounts and photos.

- AP
Read more on:    barack obama  |  us  |  us superstorm
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