At least 65 left dead in Sandy's trail of destruction

Thu, Nov 1, 2012, 00:00

THE EASTERN seaboard of the United States showed signs of returning to life yesterday, two days after Hurricane Sandy smashed its way across the region, killing at least 65 people, wreaking tens of billions of dollars in damage and leaving 8.2 million people without power at its height.

Utility companies, who had plenty of practice after Hurricane Irene last year, and the “snowpocalyse” the year before that, seem to be acting more quickly than usual. By yesterday afternoon only 5.9 million households in 15 states were still subject to outages, according to CNN.

Consolidated Edison said it would take four days to restore electricity to more than 300,000 customers in Manhattan and Brooklyn, and up to a week to bring power back to the Bronx, Queens, Staten Island and Westchester county.

New York mayor Michael Bloomberg rang the bell to reopen the New York Stock Exchange. After tens of thousands of flights had been cancelled, John F Kennedy and Newark airports resumed limited services. Amtrak was able to run trains south from Newark but, with tunnels under the Hudson still flooded, Penn Station and Manhattan remained cut off. Much of the vital northeastern railway corridor, which runs from Washington to Boston, remained underwater.

A few trains plied their way out to Long Island, and Governor Andrew Cuomo of New York said some trains would run between Manhattan and Brooklyn today. The subway, which normally transports five million people daily, will not reopen until early next week, the mayor said.

The Metropolitan Museum reopened to visitors, though its branch at the Cloisters, in Fort Tryon Park, remained closed. New York police arrested 13 people for looting.

The magnitude of the disaster held sway over small signs of normality. Surreal images of entire communities seemingly floating in water, houses dumped on highways, a boat astride a railway line, subway stations like aquariums and residents returning in kayaks and canoes to inspect their flood-damaged homes embedded themselves in the popular imagination.

Two days after the superstorm, rescuers continued to search debris-filled, waterlogged neighbourhoods. Manhattan remained a divided city, with midtown and the north of the island functioning almost normally while the southern part, below 39th street, remained flooded and without power.

In Rhode Island a man returned to his seaside cottage to find nothing but a pipe outlet where it had stood.

In Breezy Point, Queens, a neighbourhood that had been inhabited by the families of firemen for a century, firefighters visited the smouldering ruins of at least 111 homes destroyed when Sandy’s winds carried flames through the neighbourhood on Monday night. The householders had watched helplessly as their homes were destroyed.

At least 22 of the 65 people reported killed in the US by the storm died in New York city. Trees killed most of those people, such as the eight-year-old boy who was crushed when he went to check on his family’s livestock in Pennsylvania, or the two friends, both in their 20s, who were crushed to death while walking their dogs in Brooklyn.

Two boys in Westchester county, neighbours and best friends aged 11 and 13, were killed when a tree crashed through the ceiling of the living room where they were watching television.

A 75-year-old woman died of a heart attack when a blackout cut off her respirator.

At least three people drowned in their basements in the Rockaways in Queens. Also in Queens, the clothes of a 23-year-old woman who had ventured out to take photographs caught fire when the sparking end of a downed power line touched her. She burned to death.

A Staten Island family was decimated after its members refused to leave their house for fear of burglars. The house was demolished by the hurricane. A 13-year-old girl who was a member of the family was found dead 100 yards away. A man whose body was trapped in the debris was believed to be the father. The mother survived and is in hospital.

New Jersey national guard troops had to cope with live electrical wires dangling in floodwater when they arrived in Hoboken, across the Hudson from Manhattan, to rescue thousands of stranded residents. The Associated Press reported long queues to buy bread and charge mobile phones at a New Jersey supermarket.

Hurricane Sandy has revived a meek debate about climate change, which many Republicans deny. “Anyone who says there has not been a change in weather patterns is denying reality,” Governor Cuomo said yesterday.

Sandy has strengthened President Obama’s argument for greater investment in public infrastructure. The US fleet of weather satellites that predict disasters such as Sandy is precarious, following severe budget cuts over the past decade.

The “derecho” storm last June left five million people without electricity. Hurricane Irene cut power for seven million. It took weeks after both storms for power to be fully restored. Burying power lines, which is difficult and expensive, may prove the only alternative to repeated outages, as weather disasters linked to climate change become more frequent.