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Sandy fizzles out, leaving US picking up the pieces


The world-famous skyline of lower Manhattan lit up again yesterday as power was restored to several New York neighbourhoods for the first time since Superstorm Sandy swept in on Monday night.

"There's enough light and activity to get a lot of people on the street and get rid of that movie set look, as if were in some kind of ghost town or horror movie," said Bob McGee, a spokesman for the Consolidated Edison (ConEd) electricity company.

But even as light and life returned and the "horror movie" ended for some, hundreds of thousands of residents of other New York boroughs, Long Island and New Jersey, remained in the dark and cold.

Frustration grew and emotions frayed in areas suffering growing shortages of food, water and fuel. In Staten Island in particular, where the most deaths were sustained, there was anger at the slow response to the superstorm's devastating impact.

Facing a barrage of criticism that electricity generators and police resources were being diverted from disaster relief, Michael Bloomberg, the mayor, cancelled today's annual New York marathon.

The race would have started in Staten Island, where at least 19 people died, and where thousands still have no power or water. Looting has also been reported.

The National Guard, local authorities and voluntary organisations have begun emergency distribution of food and water to people in the worst-hit areas.

A priority was to reach the elderly and infirm trapped in high-rise apartment buildings with no lift service.

To add to the misery, another storm, known as a nor'easter, was forecast to send temperatures plunging below freezing in the region this week, raising fears for the welfare of those without power or heating.

As long queues continued at petrol stations in New York and New Jersey, Washington issued orders to the US military to deliver 24 million gallons of fuel to the region.

On the weekend before the presidential elections, the administration of President Barack Obama is particularly aware of the dangers of being blamed for fuel shortages. And in New Jersey, Chris Christie, the Republican governor, also imposed fuel rationing.

Less than half the petrol stations in New York City and New Jersey were open; in Long Island the vast majority were closed. Some had simply run out of fuel, while many others had no power.

About three million homes and businesses remain without electricity as a result of the storm surges and winds.

Mr Obama was praised initially for his handling of the storm's impact. But as the crisis dragged on and images of storm victims dominated front pages, it is his rival Mitt Romney who could benefit.

As of last night, though, it seemed that the storm was unlikely to affect the election result substantially.

The death toll in the United States rose to 102, in addition to at least 69 people killed in the Caribbean.

ConEd was able to restore electricity to historic neighbourhoods such as Wall Street, Chinatown and Greenwich Village after what it described as the worst natural disaster in its 180-year history.

The power firm said it had restored power to 70 per cent of the 916,000 customers in the New York City area who had been cut off.

But the misery continued in districts that were enduring their fifth day without power or water. The outer boroughs, where some people complained of being ignored, were particularly badly affected.

In New Jersey, the utility firm P&G said 612,000 customers were still without lights after power to one million had been restored.

In the areas where power returned, there were celebratory scenes as residents returned to share storm stories with those who stayed behind.

The most visible sign of recovery came with the end overnight of Manhattan's temporary divide between light (midtown and uptown) and darkness (downtown).

The New York obsession with naming neighbourhoods by geographic shorthand had even produced a new moniker for the area without electricity: SoPo, for South of Power.

About 80 per cent of the city's subway service was also restored, while New York politicians sought to assure exhausted locals that fuel was also on the way.

"Long lines will get shorter," said Senator Charles Schumer. "Hot tempers will go down."

Gas rationing went into effect in northern New Jersey, while crowds lined up at free fuel distribution sites in New York City's five boroughs, where a limit of 38 litres per person was imposed. New York officials then said that emergency vehicles had the priority over the public.

As petrol rationing went into effect at noon in northern New Jersey, police began enforcing rules to allow only motorists with odd-numbered licence plates to refuel. Those with even-numbered plates were forced to wait until today.

In Washington, Mr Obama visited the Federal Emergency Management Agency for an update on storm recovery efforts and said "there's nothing more important than us getting this right."

Obama cited the need to restore power; pump out water, particularly from electric substations; ensure that basic needs are addressed; remove debris; and get federal resources in place to help transportation systems come back on line.

"After the initial search and rescue, the recovery process is difficult and it's painful," Mr Obama said. "But we will continue to make progress as long as state and local and federal officials stay focused."

Such calming words were of little comfort to residents of hard-hit outer boroughs, notably Staten Island, a working class area that perennially seems to be treated as New York's poor relation.

"Staten Island is the Lower Ninth Ward," wrote one commentator on the Left-wing website Democratic Underground, comparing the district to the area of New Orleans that suffered worst when Hurricane Katrina struck.

"They need help. But Wall Street isn't there, nor are any casinos."

Seaside Heights on the shoreline of New Jersey bore the full force of Superstorm Sandy when it swept ashore last week.

The boardwalk has been made famous (many would say notorious) by reality TV show Jersey Shore, featuring the lives of a bunch of brash Italian-Americans. And thousands of Irish students have spent summers working with their J1 visas on the funfairs and boardwalk attraction.

But after Sandy struck, it left a less scenic vista: a rollercoaster sat in the waves of the Atlantic ocean, the pier that supported it swallowed by the sea. Other waterfront rides lay scattered across the beach, while the century-old boardwalk was ripped to shreds.

Cars were upended, and pleasure boats were embedded into homes, while the main road through was blocked by a house that was washed off its foundations.

Fortunately, most residents had heeded the order to evacuate.

© Telegraph

Sunday Independent