Death toll from Sandy still on rise

Thu, Nov 1, 2012, 00:00

Deaths in the United States and Canada from Sandy, the massive storm that hit the US east coast on Monday, rose to at least 93 this evening after the number of victims reported by authorities in New York City jumped and deaths in New Jersey and elsewhere also rose. 

With deaths in the US having reached at least 74, the latest New York City death count has risen to 38, police said. Fifteen of the city's dead were found on Staten Island, whose southeast flank took the full brunt of the storm surge.

New Jersey state police confirmed the death toll in the state had reached 12 as search and rescue teams continued to gain access to devastated areas.

About 4.5 million customers remain without power this evening in the US after Hurricane Sandy earlier this week caused blackouts from South Carolina to Maine and as far west as Michigan.

Sandy, the largest tropical system measured in the Atlantic, has killed at least 75 people in the US, flooding subway tunnels and knocking out power to as many as 8.5 million homes and businesses in total along the East Coast, including about half of New Jersey.

The worst-hit states by percentage of homes and businesses affected as of 9am local time today were New Jersey, New York, Connecticut and West Virginia, according to the US Energy Department.

The storm caused almost 8.5 million homes and businesses to lose electricity at the peak of the blackouts earlier this week.

Meanwhile, miles-long traffic jams and intersections choked with cyclists greeted commuters trying to get to work in New York as the most populous US city struggled back to its feet amid the devastation of superstorm Sandy.

Drivers from New Jersey faced hour-plus delays at bridges to Manhattan today as police checkpoints turned away cars with fewer than three passengers. Lincoln Tunnel approaches backed up past the Turnpike Exit 16 toll booths and beyond the western spur entrance on Route 3.

Lines of more than 100 cars and trucks waited at gasoline stations on Route 46 leading to the George Washington Bridge, where there were 60-minute delays.

More than 225,000 homes in Manhattan below 39th Street are still without electricity. "The system has never gone through this," governor Andrew Cuomo said last night as he urged commuters to be patient as the subway system is revived. "We still have water from floor to ceiling at some stations. These are really historic obstacles."

In New Jersey, drivers were forced to wait hours for gas as many stations were closed by power losses. At the BP station on Route 130 north in North Brunswick, a line of more than 80 cars waited along the shoulder of the highway.

The traffic light on the corner was one of few working in that area. About a mile south, both the Valero and Delta stations were without power and closed.

With ground transportation hobbled, commuters were forced to improvise and arrived at work by foot, bike, bus or car. Joseph Lhota, chairman of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, pegged the lost revenue at $18 million (€14 million) a day for the agency, which is already under financial stress.

Limited, free service on 14 of 23 subway lines resumed today, along with travel on buses and Metro-North and Long Island Rail Road commuter trains. Subways still cannot run between 34th Street in Manhattan and downtown Brooklyn, until power is restored and tunnels are cleared of water. New Jersey Transit trains remain out of service.

In New York at Jay St-MetroTech, a main hub in Brooklyn, the line to board buses to cross the river was blocks long and three people deep.

Yesterday, mayor Michael Bloomberg announced that East River bridges and the Lincoln Tunnel would be restricted to vehicles carrying at least three occupants until midnight.

The forced carpool seemed to be working on the morning commute, as car lanes on the Brooklyn Bridge were cleared of the gridlock clogging them last night.

Air travellers have fared better, as flights at LaGuardia Airport resumed today, following limited operations at John F Kennedy International and Newark Liberty yesterday.

In Manhattan, an unofficial line divided the haves with power from the have-nots. South of about 34th Street, far fewer shops or restaurants than usual are open.

Hundreds from the affected area poured into Midtown bars and restaurants looking for light, WiFi connections, food and flushable toilets. Even traffic lights remained black.

In stark comparison to downtown, where cyclists had wide boulevards to themselves, Park and Lexington avenues were as normal as New York streets can be.

Still, as parts of the city carried on, there were pockets of misery. Power problems forced the relocation of 500 patients from Bellevue Hospital Center, the mayor said.

The evacuation on Manhattan's East Side followed similar moves at New York University Langone Medical Center and Coney Island Hospital.

The fallout from the storm also threatens to hinder voting in next week's presidential election, officials said. Power failures pose "a real, serious threat" of disruption to voting in Nassau County, New York's largest suburban jurisdiction, said William Biamonte, an election commissioner.

Power is out at 90 per cent of the county's 376 polling sites, which serve 900,000 registered voters, he said yesterday. The state Board of Elections had extended the deadline for some absentee ballot applications by three days until tomorrow and ballot submission by six days to November 19th. They still must be postmarked by November 5th.

Mr Bloomberg said he asked the National Basketball Association to postpone tonight's Brooklyn Nets' home opener at the Barclays Center. The team moved to the city from New Jersey this year.

"It's a great stadium, it would have been a great game," Mr Bloomberg told reporters. "But the bottom line is there is not a lot of mass transit. Our police have plenty of other things to do."

Meanwhile, in New Jersey, one embattled homeowner, Cody Buck, had only rebuilt his home in Sayreville last year after Hurricane Irene knocked it down.

Yesterday, Mr Buck showed New Jersey governor Chris Christie how superstorm Sandy had destroyed his house once again. "I think, governor, we need to level the whole neighbourhood, give everybody a cheque and get out of here," Mr Buck said, according to a pool report by journalists covering Mr Christie's tour of the hurricane-racked state.

Sandy's brutal arrival was the latest blow to homeowners in New Jersey, where foreclosures continued to rise and real estate prices to fall after most of the US housing market began to recover last year.

The storm claimed eight lives in New Jersey and drove 6,329 people to shelters. About 2.05 million residences and businesses, more than half of those in the state, were still without power earlier today, according to the US Energy Department.

Sandy was likely to rank as one of the costliest storms in US history. One disaster-modelling firm said Sandy may have caused up to $15 billion in insured losses.

Agencies