The damage from superstorm Sandy was so devastating in some areas that it's going to take a long time for any semblance of normality to return, says the CBC’s Tom Parry.

The death toll across several states was listed at 105 on Friday night, with 41 of those reportedly in New York City.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg has warned that some people could be out of their homes for months and urged citizens to "have some patience."

Across New York and New Jersey, states at the heart of the disaster, the vast transport systems lurched to life Friday, companies turned the lights back on, and employees returned to their desks. Many major retailers also reopened. But patience was wearing thin among New Yorkers who had been without power for most of the week.

A widespread lack of gasoline or electricity to pump it compounded frustrations.

A New York man was accused of pulling a gun Thursday on a motorist who complained when he cut in line at a gas station; no one was injured. Police were called in to close one gas station in Nassau County after a generator pumping gasoline stopped working, sparking fist-fights between customers who had lined up for nearly half a kilometre, the New York Times reported.

Lines of cars, and in many places queues of people on foot carrying red jerry cans for generators, waited hours for fuel. Other customers gave up after finding only closed stations or dry pumps marked with yellow tape or "No Gas" signs.

"I drove around last night and couldn't find anything," said a relieved Kwabena Sintim-Misa as he finally prepared to fill up Friday morning in Fort Lee, N.J., near the George Washington Bridge, where he waited three hours in line.

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Police tape blocks the entrance to a fuelling station where people wait in line in Brooklyn's New York Harbour on Friday. (Brendan McDermid/Reuters)

Cab driver Harum Prince was optimistic as he waited in a Manhattan gas line 17 blocks long. "I don't blame anybody," he said. "God, he knows why he brought this storm."

Sandy damaged ports that accept fuel tankers and flooded underground equipment that sends fuel through pipelines.

The Port of New York and New Jersey was slowly starting to accept tankers. Federal requirements for low-smog gasoline have been lifted, and fuel trucks are on their way to the area.

Officials said they are trying to speed the flow of fuel.

Frustrations over fuel

On Friday, the Obama administration ordered the purchase of up to 12 million gallons of unleaded fuel and up to 10 million gallons of diesel fuel for distribution in areas affected by the storm to supplement private-sector efforts. It will be transported by tanker trucks to New York, New Jersey and other damaged communities.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, meanwhile, signed an executive order waiving the state's requirement that fuel tankers register and pay a tax before unloading.

Tankers, he said Friday, are now making "great progress" delivering fuel to distribution centers.

"No reason to panic," the governor said.

Bloomberg noted a plan is in place to ensure that police, fire and other emergency vehicles have the fuel they need. Buses, including school buses, are also a priority.

 

Sandy in the U.S. by the numbers

  • Maximum size of storm: 1,609 kilometres across.
  • Highest storm surge: 4.23 metres, at New York.
  • Number of states seeing intense effects of the storm: At least 17.
  • Deaths: 105 in the U.S. 
  • Damage: Estimated at $50 billion
  • Top wind gust on land in the U.S.:  225 km/h, at Mount Washington, N.H.
  • Power outages at peak: 8.5 million customers affected.
  • Most rainfall:  31.9 cm , at Easton, Md.
  • Most snow: 74 cm, at Redhouse, Md.

Sources: National Weather Service, Associated Press

  

"But the bottom line is that the gasoline system is getting back on its feet," he said.

New Jersey planned to move to a gas-rationing system in 12 counties in the northern part of the state. Starting at noon Saturday, residents with license plates ending in an even number will be able to buy gas only on even-numbered days. Those with plates ending in an odd number can purchase gas on odd-numbered days.

More subway and rail lines opened Friday, including Amtrak's New York to Boston route on the Northeast Corridor. In West Virginia, helicopters checked mountainous rural areas for people who may still be cut off by heavy snow.

Almost half of New York's dead were in Staten Island.

The bodies of two young boys who had been torn from their mother's arms in the storm surge were recovered from a Staten Island marsh.

NYPD Department Commissioner Raymond Kelly said 39-year-old Glenda Moore "was totally, completely distraught" after her SUV stalled in the rising tide and she lost her grip on her sons as they tried to escape. In a panic, she climbed fences and went door to door looking in vain for help in a neighbourhood that was largely abandoned in the face of the storm.

She eventually gave up, spending the night trying to shield herself from the storm on the front porch of an empty home.

"Terrible, absolutely terrible," Kelly said.

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John Okeefe walks on the beach as a rollercoaster in Seaside Heights, N.J., rests in the ocean on Wednesday. (Julio Cortez/Associated Press)

A house at the end of one badly damaged street along the Staten Island shore was completely washed away, Parry reported.

"A family used to live there," he said. "Neighbours tell me the wife survived but the husband and their 14-year-old daughter did not. They were swept away. Their bodies were found not far from here."

NYC Marathon cancelled

Staten Island is usually the starting point of the New York City Marathon, the world's largest, which was cancelled Friday around 5:30 p.m. The decision was announced by Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who earlier in the day had defended the decision to go ahead with the marathon despite criticism that resources like police officers, generators and water should be used on the race with many people still suffering.

"While holding the race would not require diverting resources from the recovery effort, it is clear that it has become the source of controversy and division," Bloomberg said in a written statement.

"We cannot allow a controversy over an athletic event — even one as meaningful as this — to distract attention away from all the critically important work that is being done to recover from the storm and get our city back on track."

Prior to the decision to cancel the race, Joan Wacks, 58, whose Staten Island waterfront condo was trashed by the storm, called Bloomberg "clueless without a paddle to the reality of what everyone else is dealing with."

More than 3.5 million homes and businesses in the East were still without power Friday, down from a peak of 8.5 million.

Cuomo has told utilities to step up power repair work or risk losing business in the state.

Officials said power would return over the weekend to downtown Manhattan, where community groups began an effort to go door to door to check on the elderly and others who may not have been able to leave their homes for a fourth day because of dark hallways and many flights of stairs.

"It's too much. You're in your house. You're freezing," said Geraldine Giordano, 82, a lifelong resident. Near her home, city employees had set up a sink where residents could get fresh water, if they needed it. There were few takers. "Nobody wants to drink that water," Giordano said.

Along the devastated Jersey Shore, residents were allowed back in their neighbourhoods Thursday for the first time since superstorm Sandy made landfall Monday night. Many homes were wiped out.

"A lot of tears are being shed today," said Dennis Cucci, whose home near the ocean in Point Pleasant Beach sustained heavy damage. "It's absolutely mind-boggling."

In Atlantic City, where casinos were told they could reopen Friday, Monty Dahm was using his restaurant to feed about 200 emergency workers despite a persisting power outage.

"We had dinner by candlelight," he told CBC News by phone.

Dahm said floodwaters caused most of the damage in the city of 40,000.

"I had five feet of water inside my house. I had two feet of seaweed, dead fish and bugs," he said. "The smell was horrendous."

After touring a flood-ravaged area of northeastern New Jersey, Gov. Chris Christie said it was time to act, not mourn. On Friday, he said Atlantic City's 12 casinos can reopen immediately. The casinos were ordered closed Sunday.

At least one estimate said the total U.S. damage from the storm could at run as high as $50 billion. The cost of the storm could exceed $18 billion in New York alone.

With files from CBC News