Superstorm Sandy: East Coast reeling, but slowly coming back to life
(CNN) — They’ve lost their homes, their businesses and many are still stranded, but residents in the battered Northeast are overcoming the aftereffects of Superstorm Sandy with a gritty resolve.
“It’s sort of like the transit strike a few years ago,” said Elizabeth Gorman, 40, a Queens resident, who walked across the Queensboro Bridge on Wednesday.
Gorman was part of a steady stream of commuters forced to walk or bike into Manhattan after Sandy roared ashore barely two days ago, wiping out roads, bridges and mass transit systems across the region.
Commuters, homeowners and businesses struggled with the loss of power and waterlogged or burned homes.
Many are still in need of basic supplies. President Barack Obama visited a shelter Wednesday in Brigantine, New Jersey, where he said he met a woman with an 8-month-old who has run out of diapers and formula.
“Those are the kinds of basic supplies and help that we can provide,” he said.
Power has now been restored to Newark and Jersey City, Obama said, but there are still “big chunks of the community” still without power. He said turning the power back on is his biggest priority.
Sandy came ashore late Monday in southern New Jersey, wiping out houses, pushing sand four blocks inland in places and leaving people stranded.
Seventy people were rescued from the barrier island in Toms River, New Jersey — people who ignored orders to evacuate, Police Chief Mike Mastronardy said.
“Everyone that we’ve encountered during evacuations today wish they’d left prior to the storm,” he said.
Authorities are still working to extinguish 11 of 30 gas fires that broke out in the storm, he said. Flooding was still a problem in many areas.
Over its entire path, the storm killed at least 122 people — 67 in the Caribbean, 54 in the United States and one in Canada. Nearly half of the U.S. deaths have been reported in New York state.
The fire that broke out in the Brooklyn neighborhood of Breezy Point during the storm destroyed 110 homes, Assistant Fire Chief Joseph Pfeiffer said. Search and rescue teams were going through each home to check for victims.
Boats were washed onto front yards in the Staten Island neighborhood of Great Kills. Borough President James Molinaro said the waters have mostly receded, but the damage is severe. Several people, including two young boys, are missing.
In Seaside Heights, New Jersey, Mayor Bill Akers said his hard-hit town will tough it out.
“We’re going to just do the best we can and give the support,” he said. “When it’s tougher, we’re the best community.”
On Wednesday, the storm sputtered over the Great Lakes region, where its strong winds are expected to trigger some lakeside flooding as well as additional snowfall in parts of West Virginia, Maryland and Pennsylvania.
Nearly 6 million customers across the eastern United States were still in the dark Wednesday, down from the nearly 8 million who lost power shortly after the storm hit.
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie described the damage along the Jersey Shore as “unthinkable.”
Akers said crews are trying to get each and every person to shelters from his battered community, which he called he the storm’s “ground zero.”
Speaking to CNN, Akers’ voice cracked a bit as he described the enormity of the destruction and the resolve to rebuild.
“I just want to try to keep the emotion out of it,” he said. “For everybody, it’s — this is a loss for everybody … not just Seaside Heights.
“If there’s any good news,” he added, “the water (has) receded, the roadways are accessible. But we still have downed power lines. We are not letting anybody in at that particular time.”
Akers said eventually, when residents come back, they’ll have to deal with their emotions and “face what we’re facing right now.”
Some 10,000 Army and Air National Guard forces were on duty in the 13 states affected by the storm.
The Army Corps of Engineers was also helping, deploying water pumps and generators to New York and New Jersey, the U.S. Defense Department said. They’re also going to send 80 truckloads of water to West Virginia, where snow generated by the storm has left some areas inaccessible.
Other military branches have also been deployed to help in the storm’s aftermath.
The U.S. Coast Guard sent airboats, normally used for ice rescues in the Great Lakes area, to the East Coast to assist in shallow water rescues.
The U.S. Navy is moving three amphibious landing ships toward the New York and New Jersey coastlines in case there is a request for their assistance.
As for mass transit, New York and New Jersey were working to get their systems back in order.
New York buses were operating at full service Wednesday, and there was limited commuter service on trains, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced. There will be limited NYC subway service supplemented by bus service from Brooklyn to Manhattan starting Thursday.
Bellevue Hospital in Manhattan was evacuating its 700 patients because the pumps that supply oil to the generators are in the basement, under 8 feet of water, a source familiar with the evacuation plan said.
It came a day after New York University Langone Medical Center had to evacuate more than 200 patients because its backup power failed.
New Jersey Transit rail and light rail will remain suspended until further notice. Bus service is also suspended, with the exception of limited service in Camden County.
Two New York-area airports — John F. Kennedy and Newark Liberty — reopened Wednesday with limited service. New York’s LaGuardia Airport will remain closed Wednesday because of significant damage after floodwaters covered runways and taxiways, but the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey said it would reopen Thursday morning for limited service.
The Port Authority said it’s waiting for electrical power to be restored to begin pumping out the Holland Tunnel, which connects the two states under the Hudson River.
Three of seven East River tunnels have been pumped and are free of water.
Con Edison and other utility crews worked to restore power.
As New Yorkers worked and cycled into Manhattan, the financial markets reopened following a two-day closure because of the storm. New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg rang the opening bell for the New York Stock Exchange.
But life has hardly returned to normal: New Jersey postponed Wednesday’s Halloween celebrations until Monday.
“I’ve taken this action to minimize additional risks to lives and the public safety as we begin the process of rebuilding and recovering from Hurricane Sandy,” Christie said.
CNN’s Marina Carver, Eden Pontz, Chris Isidore, Daphne Sashin, Dana Ford, Maggie Schneider, Michael Holmes, David Ariosto, Martin Savidge and Matt Sloane contributed to this report.