New Yorkers took their first tentative steps Wednesday to regain their lives in the stressful aftermath of super storm Sandy despite continuing power outages, a snarled transportation system and the shock of floods and fire.
But in parts of New Jersey, across the Hudson River, the new day revealed the extent of devastation. Serious flooding inundated the area around Hoboken, where emergency evacuations continued. Along the Jersey Shore and barrier islands, crown jewels of the state’s important tourist injury, entire neighborhoods were crushed, flooded and swamped with mountains of sand.
President Obama, off the campaign trail for the third day to deal with storm-related issues, will tour the devastated areas with New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie
While a wide swath of the nation assessed the damage as emergency supplies and crews poured into hard-hit areas, the storm once known as Hurricane Sandy continued to weaken in Pennsylvania with “no discernible surface circulation,” the National Weather Service reported.
Sandy has become a trough of low pressure, but strong winds were still possible over the Great Lakes and parts of the Northeast and there remained a danger of more flooding, the weather service said.
In the wake of the cyclonic system created by the merger of Sandy, a western storm and cold Canadian air, at least 55 deaths were reported in the United States.
Property damage was estimated in the billions of dollars, and with the loss of productivity from the millions of workers who stayed home, the tab could hit as much as $50 billion, according to some insurance estimates. More than 8 million customers lost power during the storm and efforts to bring everyone back on line were proceeding -- but slowly in some places.
After days of atmospheric turbulence, the sun returned to Manhattan and there were small green shoots of recovery. Some buses rolled, as did taxis. Bridges that had been shut -- turning Manhattan into an isolated and besieged enclave -- reopened. Cars clogged some roadways during a tentative morning commute.
Power was still out in many parts of Lower Manhattan and cellphone service was still spotty because of flood damage. Full restoration of both was at least days away and perhaps longer, according to the ConEdison power company. More than 337,000 customers were off the grid and full services could take more than a week to restore to the outlying boroughs and Westchester County.
The city’s subway system remained crippled; the under- and above-ground arteries that link the wilds of Canarsie in Brooklyn to the Gun Hill Road section of the Bronx were closed. No one was sure about when service would be restored as parts of the subway were still flooded by the corrosive salt from seawater that poured in during the record surges of up to 14 feet.
Brooklyn resident Marie Constant left her home as usual at 7 a.m. Wednesday and tried to take a bus to work. She said she missed the subways.
“With the train, 1, 2, 3 and you’re there!” said Constant, whose subway commute gets her to her desk in an hour. She said she had been trying to get to work for more than two hours.
“If I’d walked I would already have been there,” she said with a slight chuckle, staring at what could have been a mirage but appeared to be the outline of a bus in the distance up Atlantic Avenue.
Those who opted out of waiting, or who found the dizzying array of bus numbers and cobbled-together routes too confusing to sort out, battled each other over cabs.
Although New Mayor Michael Bloomberg had recommended that cabs pick up multiple passengers, nearly all those heading into Manhattan on this brisk autumn morning carried just one rider and moved past people like Adrian Zanchettin, who had teamed up with two others in hopes of sharing a cab to his office in Manhattan.
“It’s so handicapped me!” he said, slightly incredulously, admitting that like so many other city dwellers, he relied on the subway and rarely if ever, used buses. “It’s so selfish,” he added of the cabs that passed with just one person inside.
A fellow commuter, a dignified-looking woman in her 60s with carefully coiffed silver hair and a tailored, black overcoat on her delicate frame, leaned into one livery cab’s window and tersely reminded the driver that the mayor had told people to share taxis. The driver insisted he had not heard that and drove off, one person in the back of the car.
Suddenly, the woman looked up the street and spotted a yellow cab, its service light on to indicate it was available. “There’s one!” Together, the woman and Zanchettin took off running toward the car. Zanchettin opened the door and they piled in and took off toward the Brooklyn Bridge, into Manhattan.
Even getting a cab was no guarantee of getting to work on time. The volume of traffic on the bridges was high. From eastern and southern Brooklyn, it was taking vehicles more than 90 minutes to cross at a speed similar to an infant’s crawl.
The flow of food supplies was also in low gear. With no way in or out, shipments were backed up and were only slowly returning.
Outside one Trader Joe’s market, dejected-looking people gathered outside in hopes the store would open. But the store posted a sign saying it would only open from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m.
“Unfortunately we’re probably going to have to live with this a long time,” said one would-be shopper, speculating that even when the doors opened, there probably would be little on the shelves.
In many ways, Manhattan was a tale of two cities. Nearly all of the lower section of the island was without electricity or reliable cellphone service. But areas roughly north of 34th Street, where Penn Station and Madison Square Garden sit, seemed almost unscathed.
Amy Hohn, an actress, was one of perhaps thousands of residents of the West Village who walked north on Wednesday to find a place to charge her nearly dead cellphone. She sat in the corner of a crowded Dunkin’ Donuts on 34th Street, ordered a coffee and sandwich and watched her phone buzz to life with undelivered emails and text messages from friends elsewhere in the city.
“I have a friend on 79th Street who said, ‘You have no power? You have no phone? That must be terrible,’” Hohn said. “It’s like another world up there.”
But as New Yorkers coped with their woes, significant difficulties remained elsewhere, especially in New Jersey.
National Guard troops arrived in the heavily flooded city of Hoboken to help evacuate thousands still stuck in their homes. Firefighters were unable to reach blazes rekindled by natural gas leaks in the heavily hit shore town of Mantoloking.
“We’ve got a big task ahead of us that we have to do together,” Christie said, echoing the sentiment of Bloomberg, who also called for unity amid the crisis. “This is the kind of thing New Jerseyans are built for,” the governor said.
Electricity was still out to perhaps 2 million people in the state, though crews were rushing to dry out substations and repair downed wires.
Especially devastated was South Jersey and its fabled shoreline. The center of the cyclone came ashore near Atlantic City, where Christie and Obama are scheduled to visit, but the worst damage was north of there, as the fierce winds pushed walls of water across into town after town, causing massive flooding.
On Long Beach Island, about 25 miles north of Atlantic City, waters swamped the town of Ship Bottom and wrecked boats in Brant Beach. The area appeared devastated. So did Seaside Park, Belmar, Tom’s River and Sea Bright, all towns up the coastline.
Police blocked off the bridge to Long Beach Island, and a long line of cars parked along the shoulder on the highway Tuesday as anxious people traded scraps of information and hoped for permission to get a glimpse of their homes. Police told them they were in for a long wait.
“Sure we’re scared,” said Hector Valverde of Beach Haven, who said he left his home as water started creeping up to the first floor. “We came to see if they would let us over. They’re talking five to 10 days before we can get back.”
Further south, in Ocean City, the storm destroyed a fishing pier and left downtown under two feet of water. In Cape May, the resort town on the southern point of the state, the storm knocked down some homes.
Residents of Monmouth Beach were calling it the storm where the river met the sea. An ocean surge had swept over the seaside town and water rose in the Shrewsbury River, flooding homes, cars and businesses.
Scott Zarriello, 50, was clearing his flooded home and garage Wednesday. He and his family saw water rise more than a foot inside their home.
“The river met the ocean in my living room,” he said as he stood within view of the beach and Ocean Avenue, which has become a beach of sorts despite the rocky sea wall -- now covered in sand. Bulldozers have begin hauling the grit away.
Sam Perry, 57, of Monmouth Beach walked north to Sea Bright, past cabanas sloughed onto the beach, earth movers and police checkpoints.
Perry said he has 17 inches of water in his home. But the Jersey shore native says he’s not going anywhere.
“If you grew up here, you’re going to clean up your house and go on living,” Perry said as he stood on the sea wall watching the surf. “People want to live here on the beach.”
Susman reported from New York and Muskal from Los Angeles. Staff writers Joseph Tanfani, Molly Hennessy-Fiske and Shashank Bengali contributed to this report.