Cold snap hits storm victims
Victims of superstorm Sandy on the US east coast struggled against the cold on today amid fuel shortages and power outages, just two days ahead of the presidential election.
Fuel supplies were rumbling toward disaster zones and a million customers regained electricity as near-freezing temperatures descended on the northeast overnight. But New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg warned the city that it would be days before power was fully restored and fuel shortages ended.
President Barack Obama, neck-and-neck in opinion polls with Mitt Romney, ordered emergency response officials to cut through government "red tape" and work without delay to help ravaged areas return to normal as quickly as possible.
With freezing temperatures forecast, tens of thousands of people hit need temporary housing, New York officials said today, but it was not immediately clear where they could all be sheltered.
The number of homes and businesses without power has fallen to 1.9 million from a peak of 8.5 million since Sandy slammed the east coast of the US last Monday, authorities said early today.
But nearly 1 million people in New Jersey and almost 730,000 in New York state are still without power, authorities said. Many homes lack heat or were severely damaged by the storm.
"People are in homes that are uninhabitable and it's going to become increasingly clear they are uninhabitable when the temperature drops," New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said in a televised news conference.
"Then we're going to have tens of thousands of people that are going to need housing right away."
Senator Kirsten Gillibrand of New York said that some people might not get power back for a very long time, a concern as temperatures are expected to approach freezing in New York City and even lower in northern suburbs early tomorrow.
A 71-year-old man died in New Jersey from the cold, state police said today.
"They need to be relocated and we need to find them and find them housing," Gillibrand said.
Officials at the news conference did not put an exact figure on the number of people who will need temporary housing.
Immediate plans call for keeping those who have been displaced as near as possible to their homes, but where they will be housed was not immediately clear. There are few hotels in the New York City borough of Staten Island, for example.
New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg said that 30,000 to 40,000 people will need housing, and he urged people to go to local disaster sites.
"If you don't know where to go, stop a cop in the street, they'll help you," Bloomberg said.
The magnitude of Sandy's damage is still being calculated, let alone its cost. In Suffolk County, on eastern Long Island, 10,000 homes have been inundated, with at least 386 homes having suffered catastrophic damage, said chief deputy county executive Regina Calcaterra.
"We have areas that are devastated," she said.
Suffolk County has begun labelling homes "red," "yellow" and "green" based on their safety, and is sending electrical inspectors to homes labelled "yellow," Calcaterra said.
Officials across the northeast are increasingly worried about getting voters displaced by Sandy to polling stations for Tuesday's election. Scores of voting centres were rendered useless by the record surge of seawater in New York and New Jersey.
New Jersey is allowing voters displaced by superstorm Sandy to vote by email, while some voters in New York could be casting their ballots in tents.
The post-storm chaos in the region has overshadowed the final days of campaigning, making voting an afterthought for many.
"I'm not thinking about the election too much right now," said Frank Carrol (59), a retired New York City transit worker who lives in the hard-hit borough of Staten Island. He planned to vote, but did not know if his local polling station would even be open. "We'll stop by and see what happens," Mr Carrol said.
New Jersey Governor Chris Christie ordered county clerks to open yesterday and today to accommodate early voters and ensure a "full, fair and transparent open voting process."
New Jersey authorities also took the uncommon step of declaring that any voter displaced from their home by superstorm Sandy would be designated an overseas voter, which allows them to submit an absentee vote by fax or email.
The storm's death toll rose to at least 110 with nine more deaths reported in New Jersey yesterday, raising the total in that state to 22. Mr Bloomberg put New York City deaths at 41.
Sandy killed 69 people in the Caribbean before turning north and hammering the US eastern seaboard on Monday with 130 kmh winds and a record surge of seawater that swallowed oceanside communities in New Jersey and New York, and flooded streets and subway tunnels in New York City.