Frustration grips NYC at slow recovery from superstorm

While thousands of jubilant New Yorkers were able to switch on their lights on Saturday for the first time since Hurricane Sandy hit, huge numbers are still without power, leaving many upset and even squabbling over resources.

'It's economics. Manhattan gets everything,' Staten Island resident complains

Post-Sandy cleanup update

10 years ago
Duration 2:28
The New York City Marathon was cancelled on Friday after mounting criticism that this was not the time for a race while the region is still recovering from Superstorm Sandy

While thousands of jubilant New Yorkers were able to switch on their lights on Saturday for the first time since Hurricane Sandy hit, huge numbers are still without power, leaving many upset and even squabbling over resources.

"All of the power in Manhattan has been restored," New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo told a media briefing Saturday. "That doesn't mean every building everywhere has power, but downtown Manhattan has power restored. We are under 900,000 people now without power in the metropolitan area" of New York.

Cuomo said that emergency mobile gas stations, courtesy of the U.S. Defence Department, would also be set up at five locations in the city. "Do not panic. I know there is anxiety about fuel."

Depleted gasoline stocks are just the latest source of frustration. With New York Harbor closed for four days in the wake of the storm earlier this week, tankers were unable to offload new supplies. Those shortages plus the lack of electricity at many New York City-area service stations has forced two-thirds of them to temporarily close.

Cuomo said the Defence Department's emergency gas stations will be set up at five locations around the New York City metropolitan area to distribute free fuel with a limit of 38 litres per person.

Relief for motorists couldn't come sooner. Some of the gas stations that have remained open are experiencing kilometres-long lines, with drivers waiting hours and even sleeping in their cars to get gas. Fights have broken out and police have been called in.

Elsewhere, though, there was jubilation that power is being slowly restored. Aida Padilla, 75, was thrilled the lights came on in her Chelsea apartment building late Friday.

"I put the lights on. Everybody was screaming. It was better than New Year's," Padilla said.

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Others were not so happy. On Staten Island, homeowners were grumbling about the lack of services — feeling like they were lowest on the totem pole.

"It's economics. Manhattan gets everything," Anthony Como said.

As for electricity, Long Island has about 550,000 people who are still without power, down from 1.2 million initially

Later on Saturday, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg indicated it was "unacceptable" that certain areas were not getting enough resources. He singled out the Rockaway area of Queens and said he was insisting that more help be channelled toward that part of the city.

Bloomberg also condemned the Long Island Power Authority for not doing enough to restore power. The power authority said it could take up to two weeks to fully restore electricity.

'As quickly as possible back to school'

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie said there were still 1.2 million homes without power in his state as of noon on Saturday, compared to the 2.7 million in the dark on Tuesday. At a news conference, Christie added that his home was among those still lacking electricity and that 6,500 people were still in emergency shelters.

Christie also announced that 252 of 589 school districts in his state will be open by Monday.

"We should move kids as quickly as possible back to school. This will be good for the kids for normalcy in their lives and even better for their parents," the governor said.

Members of the New York Air National Guards bring food and water to residents of Staten Island, where at least 22 people died during the storm. (Jeremy M. Call/Reuters)

Meanwhile, U.S. President Barack Obama used his weekly address Saturday to tell victims of the storm that their country will support them "for as long as it takes to recover and rebuild."

He said even before the storm hit the U.S. Eastern Seaboard early in the week, he instructed his team "not to let red tape and bureaucracy get in the way of solving problems," especially when it comes to restoring power.

"This week, we have been humbled by nature's destructive power," Obama said. "But we've been inspired as well.  For when the storm was darkest, the heroism of our fellow citizens shone brightest."

Despite progress in restoring power, Bloomberg warned on Friday that some people could be out of their homes for months.

Bloomberg also announced the New York City Marathon, scheduled Sunday, has been cancelled. At one point on Friday, he said he was in favour of going ahead with the race, but a few hours later reversed his stand because of pressure from those who said resources should be concentrated on victims.

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: More than 100 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

"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," the mayor said.

The death toll across several states was listed at 105 on Friday night, with 41 of those reportedly in New York City. About half of New York's dead were in Staten Island, where the marathon was supposed to begin.

Around 47,500 runners — 30,000 of them out-of-towners, many of them from other countries — had been expected to take part in the 42.2-kilometre marathon.

For some runners, the race cancellation was a big disappointment. At the midtown New Yorker Hotel, the lobby was filled with anguished runners Friday, some crying and others with puffy eyes. Out-of-town runners said they would have been less frustrated had the race been called off earlier in the week.

But the decision to cancel came as a relief to many area residents.

"Thank God. My reaction is they have come to their senses in realizing that these resources are going to be needed where they're truly needed," said one woman from Staten Island, where 32,000 homes remained without power.

Volodymyr Krupa takes a cigarette break on his street while cleaning out his flood damaged home in the Staten Island borough of New York. (Seth Wenig/Associated Press)

Toronto runner Allan Jeffries, a New York City Marathon entrant, told CBC News the decision to cancel "was the correct one," but he, too, would have preferred to learn about it earlier.

Meanwhile in Washington, Obama stopped in at the headquarters of the Federal Emergency Management Agency on Saturday for an update on the storm before getting ready for a full day of campaigning across the country.

The briefing included members of his cabinet and governors who joined in by telephone.

The White House says Obama is sending out top officials to New York, New Jersey and Connecticut to check on response and recovery efforts. Those officials include the health, housing and homeland security secretaries, as well as the president's homeland security adviser.

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

Drivers in New York and New Jersey are experiencing long lineups at the limited number of gas stations that have power to run pumps. Some stations have asked for police assistance to help keep tempers calm.

Gov. Christie has ordered an even-odd system of gas rationing in New Jersey, starting at noon Saturday. Vehicles with licence plates ending with an even number can fill up on even-numbered calendar dates, alternating every other day with odd-numbered cars.

With files from The Associated Press