NEW YORK: Patience wore thin over gas shortages, power failures and long lines for everything from buses to food handouts Friday as many parts of the New York City region struggled to recover from the devastation left by Superstorm Sandy.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg decided Friday afternoon to cancel the New York City Marathon, scheduled for Sunday, amid a growing backlash from residents and local politicians angered at the intent of staging a race when many New Yorkers are still dealing with severe hardships.
Even as the mayor was making his decision, there was more grim news about the storm’s toll.
On Staten Island, the borough that bore the brunt of the city’s casualties, rescuers pulled two bodies from a house in the hard-hit Midland Beach neighborhood on Friday afternoon. Neighbors who had been carrying ruined furniture and trash to the street watched as two body bags were carried out of a house on Olympia Boulevard, about two miles from the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge.
The two victims, who were not immediately identified, brought to five the number of bodies found in Midland Beach, a low-lying area of bungalows and newer two-story houses that was hit hard by the surge that accompanied the storm.
The borough has become the epicenter of the devastation wrought in New York by the hurricane, which swept through the area after making landfall Monday, as most of the more than 40 fatalities have occurred there.
And in a visible and welcome sign of recovery, lights began flickering in several Manhattan neighborhoods, including the East Village, the Lower East Side and Chelsea.
Officials continued to emphasize their round-the-clock efforts, many by volunteers or employees whose own homes had been damaged, to restore normal life.
In New Jersey, Gov. Chris Christie said Atlantic City’s 12 casinos could reopen immediately after a nearly five-day shutdown.
But people were becoming exasperated.
Government officials have asked for patience. City departments tried to stave off the anger by opening help lines, handing out free meals, updating citizens with progress in restoring services and monitoring Twitter feeds, where they answered residents directly about their individual commutes. Fees were waived for bus and subway travel.
Losses piling up
Amid the continuing grief and hardship, Bloomberg announced Friday that the death toll in the city had risen to at least 41.
The financial losses, too, continue to pile up, approaching $50 billion, according to an early estimate from economists at Moody’s Analytics — about $30 billion in property damage, the rest in lost economic activity like meals and canceled flights.
But increments of progress, including a second day of limited subway and bus lines, have been made in the aftermath of the hurricane, which made landfall Monday night as what officials now describe as the worst storm to hit New York City. Its punishing floods, rains and wind left millions of people with overwhelming problems they, too, had likely never faced.
Gina Braddish, 27, had 4 feet of water flood her home in Long Beach, on Long Island, leaving a slick of oil, gasoline and raw sewage across her floors. “I have oil slicked on my floors and they tell me it’s not an emergency,” she said. “When the house blows up, then it’s an emergency. I just want someone to come down here and help.”
As the week drew to a close, the widespread shortages disrupted some rescue and emergency services. The effort to secure enough gas for the region moved to the forefront of recovery work.
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said that as ports were reopened, the gas shortages should start to ease.
But local officials sprang into action in the meantime. The town of Belleville, in Northern New Jersey, passed an ordinance rationing gas Thursday night that was reminiscent of the 1970s oil embargo. Starting Monday, and until the governor lifts the state of emergency, people whose license plates end in odd numbers can buy gas only on odd numbered dates, and those with even numbers on even numbered dates. The mayor of nearby Montclair suggested to the Town Council that it consider a similar plan.
In New Jersey, drivers had been waiting in lines that ran hundreds of vehicles deep, requiring state troopers and local police officers to protect against exploding tempers. Some ran out of gas waiting.
At stations that were open, nerves frayed. Fights broke out Thursday at the block-long Hess station on 10th Avenue in Midtown Manhattan, forcing the police department to send three officers to keep the peace, a police official said.
By evening, the police had to close two lanes of the broad thoroughfare to accommodate a line of customers stretching eight blocks, to 37th Street.
Abhishek Soni, the owner of an Exxon in Montclair, N.J., called the police and turned off pumps for 45 minutes to cool nerves when disputes in the line Wednesday night became heated.
“My nose, my mouth is bleeding from the fumes,” he said. “The fighting just makes it worse.”
Adapting to rules
Commuters have had to adapt to new rules to get to work with ingenuity and patience. On Friday in New York City, subway trains, which pressed back onto the rails Thursday, continued with limited service, with downtown trains in Manhattan going as far as 34th Street before stopping because of power problems there.
There was increasing worry about the elderly. Community groups have been going door-to-door on the upper floors of darkened Manhattan apartment buildings, and city workers and volunteers in hard-hit Newark, N.J., delivered meals to seniors and others stuck in their buildings.
“It’s been mostly older folks who aren’t able to get out,” said Monique George of Manhattan-based Community Voices Heard.
“In some cases, they hadn’t talked to folks in a few days. They haven’t even seen anybody because the neighbors evacuated. They’re actually happy that folks are checking, happy to see another person. To not see someone for a few days, in this city, it’s kind of weird.”