Reeling From the Storm and Facing a New Danger: the Cold
By Michael Schwirtz New York Times November 4, 2012
With tens of thousands of residents left homeless after the devastation from last week’s storm, New York-area officials began focusing on Sunday on another weather-related factor that might make the problems even worse: colder weather that is moving into the region.
In New York, 20,000 to 40,000 people, many of them residents of public housing, will have to find homes, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg said on Sunday. Earlier in the day, Mr. Bloomberg compared it to the situation after Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans, but he later seemed to temper his assessment after news that power had been restored in some of the hardest hit areas.
Still, he said, at least 20,000 people live in homes that were so severely damaged by the storm surge that they were uninhabitable. Relocating those residents, he said, will be a daunting task.
“We don’t have a lot of empty housing in this city,” he said at a news conference “We are not going to let anybody go sleeping in the streets or go without blankets, but it’s a challenge, and we’re working on that as fast as we can.”
Thousands of people in New Jersey, on Long Island and in Connecticut face a similar problem. “This is going to be a massive, massive housing problem,” Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo of New York said at a news conference with the mayor.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency announced Sunday that it would begin providing transitional housing to those who could not return to their homes. As of Sunday morning, 164,000 residents of Connecticut, New Jersey, and New York had applied for aid, and the agency had approved more than $137 million in financial assistance.
Mr. Bloomberg called the cold the most pressing challenge in the recovery. The city has opened heating shelters (http://www.nyc.gov/html/misc/html/2012/warming_ctr.html) and is passing out blankets to New Yorkers without electricity.
Temperatures throughout the region fell early Sunday into the 30s, and the National Weather Service issued a freeze watch for parts of New Jersey, including the coast, the scene of some of the worst damage. Officials have urged residents across the region to head to shelters.
“You can die from being cold,” Mr. Bloomberg said Sunday. “You can die from fires started from candles or stoves. Please go to the local disaster site. If you don’t know where to go, stop a cop on the side of the road and ask.”
Adding to the concerns, a northeaster could move in by midweek, forecasters said, hitting the already battered coastal areas with heavy winds and strong waves that could cause more flooding. Freezing temperatures are also expected.
Though the lights continued to flicker, including in some hard-hit regions like the Rockaways, Queens, on Sunday, more than 700,000 utility customers remained without power in New York State, including 404,000 on Long Island and 154,000 in New York City.
Nearly a million customers in New Jersey and 70,000 in Connecticut were also without power. But restoring electric service is only the first step. When the storm surge flooded homes along the coast, the ocean water destroyed boilers and water heaters.
Yet amid the despair, there has been an outpouring of good will. On Staten Island, in the Rockaways and in other regions pummeled by Hurricane Sandy, thousands of people, including runners who had expected to compete in the New York City Marathon, which was canceled late last week, have pitched in to haul away fallen trees and to distribute food and clothing.
The narrow streets of Midland Beach, one of the hardest hit areas on Staten Island, were alive with activity. Volunteers carried hoes, rakes, brooms and shovels as they went door to door offering their labor. Others circled the blocks in pickup trucks full of food, blankets, clothes and cleaning supplies. Impromptu distribution centers, piled high with food and secondhand clothes, sprung up on every other corner.
On Sunday morning, runners dressed in orange marathon gear crowded onto the Staten Island Ferry and headed to the storm-ravaged borough to help. They packed blankets, food, water and flashlights in shoulder bags. Some planned to run to battered areas once the ferry docked.
“There are people suffering on Staten Island, and we’ve got to do something about it,” said Neil Cohen, 42, from Riverdale in the Bronx.
Yet, it was not enough to solve some of the immense problems. Gas shortages persist, and Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey has declared a fuel emergency and imposed rationing in 12 counties. On Sunday, gas lines seemed slightly shorter in some places than in the previous few days, but many stations were still closed. The authorities set up three fuel depots in New Jersey to provide doctors and nurses with up to 15 gallons apiece to allow them to get to work.
There were also concerns about drivers pumping more than their fair share of gasoline. Havier Nazario, 36, a principal at a Newark public school who was in line at a station outside Newark Airport, said he saw a man buy $101 worth of gas.
“I don’t know what he’s trying to power, but I think folks should pretty much just take what they need for their vehicle; otherwise the ration doesn’t have its effect,” he said.
Mr. Cuomo said that tankers and barges were on the way to ease shortages. The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey announced that Port Elizabeth, N.J., reopened on Sunday to receive its first shipments. Other Port Authority seaports remained closed.
“We do believe it is a short-term problem,” Mr. Cuomo said, adding that shortages could continue for several days.
As for the subways, all of the numbered lines were running to some degree, said Joseph J. Lhota, the chairman of the Metropolitan Transit Authority, who spoke with Mr. Cuomo and Mr. Bloomberg at a news conference, and the mayor said he would take the subway to work on Monday. The No. 1 train has been extended south to 14th Street, and transit officials said they hoped that it would reach Rector Street by Monday. (The South Ferry station, although the water has been pumped out, remains unusable.)
Mr. Lhota said trains would arrive at stations less often on Monday than on a normal weekday. “It’s an old system,” Mr. Lhota said in televised remarks. “It needs tender loving care, and it just had a major accident.”
The commute on Monday could be complicated by the return to school of nearly a million children. About 96 percent of the city’s school buses are expected to be operating, and all but 65 schools should be open, Mr. Bloomberg said. Students at closed schools will be sent to other locations, though the mayor said that keeping everyone informed about who goes where was proving difficult. The city has made over a million robocalls to parents and has purchased full page ads in Monday’s newspapers with information about scheduling changes.
Mr. Bloomberg also set the stage for possible confusion at polling places during the election on Tuesday. About 143,000 voters in the city will be assigned to polling sites outside their districts, and the mayor expressed hope that the New York Board of Elections, which he has criticized for mismanagement, would be prepared.
Asked whether he thought the Elections Board was up to the task, he replied: “I have absolutely no idea...”
Reporting was contributed by Michael M. Grynbaum, Mary Pilon, Eric Lipton, Steve Eder, Vivian Yee and Thomas Kaplan.