Superstorm damage unthinkable – US execAssociated Press
NEW YORK—Superstorm “Sandy,” the most devastating in decades to hit the most densely populated US region, killed more than 50 people, cut off modern communication, and left millions without power on Tuesday, as thousands who fled their waterlogged homes wondered when—if—life would return to normal.
Although the hurricane turned fearsome superstorm was weakening, Sandy still wasn’t finished. It inched inland across Pennsylvania, ready to bank toward western New York State and Canada to dump more of its water and cause more havoc.
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie described the devastation in his state as “unthinkable.”
In a measure of the storm’s massive size, the Midwest waves on southern Lake Michigan rose to a record-tying 6.1 meters (20.3 feet). High winds spinning off Sandy’s edges clobbered the Cleveland area, uprooting trees, closing schools and flooding major roads along Lake Erie.
Sandy left in its wake a dazed, inundated New York City, a drenched Atlantic Coast and a moonscape of disarray and debris—from unmoored shore-town boardwalks to submerged mass-transit systems to delicate presidential politics.
“Nature is an awful lot more powerful than we are,” New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg said as he assessed the damage to his city.
But even as rescuers combed neighborhoods strewn with debris and scarred by floods and fire, people in the devastated areas began taking cautious steps to reclaim their upended daily routines.
While New York City buses returned to darkened streets eerily free of traffic and the New York Stock Exchange got ready to reopen 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 neighbor, comfort a stranger and get the city we love back on its feet,” Bloomberg said.
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 canceling 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.
Access to polling stations and voter turnout, both of which hinge upon how people are impacted by the storm, could affect the outcome in the extremely close presidential race.
Talk of recovery
By late Tuesday, the winds and flooding inflicted by 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.
At the height of the disaster, more than 8.2 million households were without electricity in 17 states as far west 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.
Amid the darkness and despair, however, 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. It may take four or five days before the subway, which suffered its worst damage in its 108-year history, is running again, according to Bloomberg.
All 10 of the tunnels that carry commuters under the East River were flooded. The high water has 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.
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.
Floodwater led to explosions that disabled a power substation on Monday night, contributing to the outages.
‘I lost everything’
Surveying the widespread damage, it was clear much of the recovery and rebuilding will take far longer.
When New Jersey Governor Christie stopped in Belmar 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.
When Christie speaks with Obama on Wednesday, the governor 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.”
Semblance of routine
By sundown on Tuesday, however, announcements from officials and scenes on the streets signaled that New York and nearby towns were edging toward a semblance of routine.
First came the reopening 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.
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said he hoped there would be full service by Wednesday. Still, school was canceled 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 reopen at 7 a.m. (1100 GMT) on Wednesday with limited service. New York’s LaGuardia Airport remains closed.
The New York Stock Exchange was again silent on Tuesday—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.
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 was unprecedented. There will be no train service between New York and Boston. No date has been set for when it might resume.
Damage and pain
But even with the return of some transportation and plans to reopen schools and businesses, the damage and pain inflicted by Sandy continued to unfold, confirming the challenge posed by rebuilding.
Images from around the storm-affected areas depicted scenes reminiscent of big-budget disaster movies. In Moonachie, New Jersey, water rose to 1.5 meters (5 feet) within 45 minutes and trapped residents who thought the worst of the storm had passed.
In Atlantic City, a gaping hole remained where once a stretch of boardwalk sat by the sea. 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.
In heavily flooded Hoboken, New Jersey, across the Hudson River from Manhattan, dozens of yellow cabs sat parked in rows, submerged in murky water to their windshields.
National Guard troops arrived in the area on Tuesday night with high-wheeled vehicles to reach thousands of flood victims stuck in their homes. The troops found 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.
About 2.1 million homes and businesses remained without power across New Jersey late Tuesday. The state’s largest utility 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 cell phones.
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.
Governor Christie said 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.
In Connecticut, some residents of Fairfield returned home in kayaks and canoes to inspect widespread damage left by retreating floodwaters that kept other homeowners at bay.
The storm caused irreparable damage to homes in East Haven, Milford and other shore towns. Still, many were grateful the storm did not deliver a bigger blow, considering the havoc wrought in New York City and New Jersey.
“I feel like we are blessed,” said Bertha Weismann, whose garage was flooded in Bridgeport. “It could have been worse.”
And in New York, residents of the flooded beachfront neighborhood of Breezy Point 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 residents had stayed behind despite being told to evacuate.
Event of a lifetime
Sandy became, pretty much everyone agreed on Tuesday, the weather event of a lifetime—and one shared vigorously on social media by people who took eye-popping photographs as the storm blew through, then shared them with the world by the blue light of their smartphones.
On Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, people tried to connect, reassure relatives and make sense of what was happening. They posted and passed around images and real-time updates at a dizzying rate, wishing each other well and gaping, virtually, at scenes of calamity moments after they unfolded.
Among the top terms on Facebook through the night and well into Tuesday, according to the social network: “we are OK,” “made it” and “fine.”
Forecasting firm IHS Global Insight predicted Sandy would likely end up causing about $20 billion in damage and $10 billion to $30 billion in lost business.
“The biggest problem is not the first few days but the coming months,” said Alan Rubin, an expert in natural disaster recovery. Associated Press