The sodden, wind-blown tri-state region of New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania began an arduous journey back to normal on Wednesday after mammoth storm Sandy killed at least 82 people in a rampage that swamped coastal cities and cut power to millions across the Northeast.
Financial markets reopened with the New York Stock Exchange running on generator power after the first weather-related two-day closure since an 1888 blizzard. Packed buses took commuters to work with New York's subway system idle after seawater flooded its tunnels.
The U.S. Navy said it was moving ships closer to areas affected by the disaster in case they might be needed, including the helicopter carrier USS Wasp.
Sandy killed 69 people in the Caribbean as a hurricane before crashing ashore just south of Atlantic City, N.J. Monday night as Post-Tropical Cyclone Sandy, which became a rare hybrid superstorm after merging with another weather system to deliver 80 mile-per-hour winds and record storm surges.
It may go down as the largest storm system to ever hit the United States.
Sandy already has been called one of the country's costliest storms. One disaster-modeling firm estimated Sandy caused up to $15 billion in insured losses.
A national benefit concert is being planned to help Hurricane Sandy victims.
NBC Today show co-anchor Savannah Guthrie sent out a Twitter message just before 8 a.m. Thursday saying NBC will broadcast a concert Friday night. Her Tweet promised more details would be forthcoming.
New Jersey shore towns began the unfathomable task of assessing the full text of the damage as President Obama and Gov. Christine Christie put aside politics to tour the devastation.
The president told a Brigantine marina owner whose boat docks washed away that New Jerseyans will rebuild just as the people of Joplin, Mo., did after last year's EF-5 tornado.
"You go back there now, and they rebuilt. That's what they do," Obama said.
Speaking with other groups of residents he pledged the federal government "will not quit until this done."
But the president also put some of the onus on "neighbors helping neighbors" after visiting a community center serving as an emergency shelter.
"When you see folks like that respond with strength and resilience…, then you're reminded about what America is all about," Obama said. "We go through tough times, but we bounce back."
In the Lehigh Valley, Poconos, Berks, Bucks and Montgomery counties about 500,000 PPL, Met-Ed and PECO customers remained without power Thursday morning. New Jersey Central Power and Light also had about 71,600 customers without power in Warren and Hunterdon counties.
Telephone and Internet service also was out in many parts of the region.
Gov. Tom Corbett surveyed the damage by helicopter Wednesday and stopped in Upper Bucks County to visit an American Red Cross emergency shelter at Palisades High School in Kintnersville that more than 300 people have used since the storm.
Hurricane Sandy has been attributed to 11 deaths in Pennsylvania, including five in the Lehigh Valley region. Bucks was probably the hardest hit in the region as far as the number of people who lost electrical power, which utility companies say may not be restored for more than a week or longer.
Everywhere, people without power searched for basic necessities. They jammed restaurants and gas stations — to the point that many businesses sold out of supplies — and searched for ways to save their refrigerated and frozen foods, keep warm and clean and charge their cell phones and other electronics.
Amenities offered in the Lehigh Valley to storm victims ranged from meals to hot showers to electronic charging stations.
The Riegelsville Fire Company in Bucks County — just south of Easton — served more than 400 meals Wednesday night. Saucon Valley School District opened up its middle school for people to take showers and charge their electronics. In the Poconos, the American Red Cross is operating a shelter at Pocono Mountain West High School off Route 940.
FEMA opened a mega-shelter in East Stroudsburg University's Koehler Fieldhouse Tuesday and has provided showers, shelter and meals to over 100 people.
PPL Utilities and Met-Ed also are providing limited amounts of free ice and water to customers through supermarkets in the Lehigh Valley, Poconos and Bucks County.
RECOVERY AND POWER UPDATES
About 6 million homes and businesses in 15 states remained without power Wednesday, down from a high of nearly 8.5 million, which surpassed the record 8.4 million customers who went dark from last year's Hurricane Irene.
PPL Utilities says it has restored power to more than half of its customers who lost power and as of 12:30 p.m. Thursday had about 191,000 out, including about 95,100 in Lehigh and Northampton counties. Met-Ed has another 38,700 customers out in Lehigh and Northampton counties.
PPL says crews are being re-directed from the Harrisburg and Lancaster regions to the Lehigh Valley and northeastern Pennsylvania where 90 percent of the remaining outages are located.
"We continue to make progress, and the more than 5,000 people supporting the restoration effort — including more than 3,000 workers in the field — have started to turn the tide," PPL distribution operations vice president Dave Bonenberger said in a prepared statement.
The company expects to restore another 70,000 customers mostly in the Lehigh Valley, Poconos and Bucks and Montgomery counties Thursday.
Many of those customers received incorrect information through PPL's message notification system that gave 11 p.m. Monday as the estimated restoration time. PPL on its Facebook page said many of those customers will get their power back Thursday or Friday.
Most of the power outages in the region occurred in Bucks and Montgomery counties, were more than 300,000 customers served mostly by PECO were still without power. Of those, 30,129 PPL customers and 7,300 Met-Ed customers were still without power as of noon Thursday.
The Poconos also more than 40,000 utility customers without power. PPL has about 12,400 customers out in Monroe County, 5,300 in Carbon County and 4,100 in Schuylkill County while Met-Ed has 17,600 out in Monroe County.
New Jersey Central Power & Light has nearly 830,00 customers, including about 71,000 in Hunterdon and Warren counties.
As floodwaters receded in New York City, residents and commuters went back to work by car, bicycle, bus and on foot to get into Manhattan while Bellevue Hospital was forced to evacuate 500 patients because of damage to the building.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg said four hospitals and 17-chronic care facilities had been ordered to evacuate.
An evacuation order for 375,000 New Yorkers in low-lying areas remained in effect Wednesday.
TRANSPORTION, SUPPLIES AND SHELTERS
Some New York subway service resumed service Thursday, but to limit vehicle traffic cars entering the city must have at least three occupants.
Across the Hudson River in Hoboken, N.J., water that had reached chest high on Monday was knee high Wednesday morning.
"I thought it was the end. I kept telling my sons to pray," said Marcelina Rosario, 47, who was trapped in the second floor of her Hoboken apartment. "Everything happened so fast. The water started coming up, the refrigerator was floating."
More than half of the gas stations in the New York City area and New Jersey were closed due to power outages and depleted fuel supplies, but many of them flocked to the Poconos to fill their gas cans.
Tempers flared and horns blared in a line of some 30 vehicles at a Getty service station in Brooklyn.
I don't have any lights and need this gasoline for my generator," said Abdul Rahim Anwar as he put two full containers into his trunk.
Fuel spilled from a northern New Jersey oil facility shut down by Sandy, according to Motiva, the site's operator. NBC, citing the U.S. Coast Guard, said 300,000 gallons of diesel had been released and 200 people were working on the cleanup.
The American Red Cross and The Salvation Army were operating shelters throughout the three states.
In Easton, the Salvation Army established a shelter in its community center at 1110 Northampton St. and have served 200 meals since Monday night.
The American Red Cross is operating shelters in Agricultural Hall at the Allentown Fairgrounds in Allentown, a UGI Utilities facility at 2121 City Line Road in Bethlehem, Reading High School in Berks County and at Palisades High School in Kintnersville, Bucks County.
Janice Osborne, spokeswoman for the Greater Lehigh Valley Chapter of the American Red Cross, said Wednesday night 108 people stayed in the Allentown shelter, 55 in the Bethlehem shelter and 10 in the Reading shelter.
OPEN, CLOSED OR POSTPONED
The New York area's John F. Kennedy and Newark airports reopened after thousands of flights had been canceled, leaving travelers stuck for days. LaGuardia, a third major airport, was scheduled to reopen on Thursday.
Limited New York subway service was due to start on Thursday, four days after the system, with daily traffic of about 5.5 million people, shut down.
Brooklynite Matthew Gessler went to Breezy Point, the New York neighborhood where fire destroyed 111 homes, to inspect damage to his mother's house, and was disturbed by what he saw.
"Where the fire happened, you could honestly take that picture and say it was somewhere in the Middle East, like in Afghanistan, and no one would doubt you at all," Gessler said.
Queens District Attorney Richard Brown said more than a dozen people had been charged with theft and looting in connection with the storm for targeting businesses in the badly flooded Far Rockaway neighborhood of the New York City borough.
Sunday's New York Marathon will go on as scheduled, but Thursday's National Basketball Association season-opening game between the New York Knicks and Brooklyn Nets was postponed.
In Pennsylvania, driver's license centers remained closed in the Lehigh Valley Thursday due to power outages.