People line up on 145th street to collect fuel at a petrol
station on Manhattan Island in New York. REUTERS/Andrew
Most New York City schools reopened and millions of
commuters fought huge crowds on public transportation, a week
after superstorm Sandy devastated the US Northeast and created
lingering hardship for disaster victims as winter sets in.
Living conditions remained severe for tens of thousands of
people unable to return to their homes, and some 1.4 million
homes and businesses were due to endure another night of
near-freezing temperatures without power or heat.
The devastation could also send ripples through Tuesday's
presidential election, with President Barack Obama and
Republican challenger Mitt Romney locked in a close race.
An exhausted region now faces the prospect of a new storm. A
strong "Nor'easter" was forecast to bring freezing
temperatures and more rain and wind by the middle of the
week, possibly flooding coastal areas that have yet to
recover from Sandy.
The US death toll rose to at least 113 and thousands of homes
were destroyed or damaged by the gigantic storm, which
slammed into the US East Coast a week ago, bringing a record
surge that flooded low-lying areas with seawater.
Hurricane Sandy killed 69 people in the Caribbean before
turning its 130kmh winds on the United States.
Most of New York City's 15,070 schools reopened but 57
suffered structural damage and needed to be relocated, 20
lacked power and another 16 were closed because they were
being used as shelters, the Department of Education said.
With sizeable legs of the region's public transportation
network still hobbled by storm damage, people stood for an
hour or more on train platforms or street corners in New
Jersey, Long Island and Connecticut waiting for trains and
buses, only to find many of them too crowded to board.
Service on many rail and bus lines was reduced and the New
York City subway was running at about 80 percent of its
The commute from New Jersey was particularly trying.
As a Northeast Corridor Line train on the New Jersey Transit
network pulled into Newark, passengers wondered aloud how the
hundreds of people who crowded the platform would squeeze
into the already-packed train.
A conductor banged on the window, signaling passengers to
squeeze together more than they already were. "Move in! It's
gonna be a tight fit," another conductor yelled. Still, there
was no room for about half of the passengers.
"I'm taking Amtrak back this afternoon, so I don't have to
deal with this," said Gabrielle Nader, 27, a human resources
professional who boarded in Trenton. "It's worse than a
Hundreds of commuters tried to get ahead of potential logjam
on NJ Transit's commuter rail by flocking to national carrier
Amtrak, which sold out rush-hour trains through Friday along
the corridor. Amtrak prices can run more than twice those of
commuter rails, adding to the economic hardship of those
affected by the storm.
ELECTION DAY CONCERNS
An estimated 30,000 to 40,000 people in New York City were in
need of shelter, including 20,000 in public housing, New York
City Mayor Michael Bloomberg said on Sunday.
Some 750 construction workers resumed rebuilding at the World
Trade Center site known as "Ground Zero" since the attacks of
Sept. 11, 2001. Sandy's record storm surge caused the Hudson
River to pour into the Sept. 11 memorial and museum and
temporarily stopped construction on two skyscrapers that have
nearly topped out.
Concerns were also growing that Sandy would prevent displaced
voters from reaching polling stations on Tuesday. Scores of
voting centers were rendered useless by the record surge of
seawater in New York and New Jersey.
New Jersey has said it will allow people displaced by the
storm to vote by email. In New York City, some 143,000 voters
will be reassigned to different polling sites. Both states
are normally easy wins for Democrats.
PSE&G, the largest electric utility in New Jersey, said
early Monday it had restored power to 78 percent of the 1.7
million customers blacked out by the storm.
In New York, utilities came under increasing pressure to
restore heat and light to some 650,000 customers. More than
half of those were served by the Long Island Power Authority,
which was singled out for criticism by Governor Andrew Cuomo.
Tab Hauser, deputy mayor of the still-dark Village of Flower
Hill on the north shore of Long Island, said that not only
has the cleanup been too slow, Long Island Power Authority
"is doing nothing to prepare for the future."
He would like to see the utility consider underground lines
and metal rather than wood poles. "Every year it's a
Band-Aid," he said. "This can happen next year and nothing
Lee Green, 45, a firefighter who owns a property management
company in Westhampton Beach on the southern shore of Long
Island, said there were parts of the coastline "where the
dunes are just completely wiped out and there's a 20-foot
(6-metre) drop from the back of the homes to the beach."
He said the fire department had been deluged with dozens of
emergency calls around the clock. "Wires down, road hazards,
car accidents, telephone pole fires, alarms going off," Green
"The power grid out here is really old and quirky. And when
it shorts out, it causes chaos all over town."
After a peak of 8.5 million outages across 21 states affected
by the massive storm, the rate of restoring power each day
has slowed as line crews must work on increasingly difficult
and isolated outages.
The New York Harbor energy network was returning to normal
with mainline power restored, but there were concerns about
heating oil supplies with cold weather forecast.