Petrol queues as hurricane stormwater recedes

Fri, Nov 2, 2012, 00:00

RESCUERS SEARCHED flooded streets and swamped houses for survivors, drivers lined up for hours to get scarce petrol and millions remained without power yesterday as New York city and nearby coastal towns struggled to recover from one of the biggest storms to hit the United States.

New Yorkers heard the rumble of subway trains for the first time in four days as limited service resumed, but the lower half of Manhattan still lacked power and surrounding areas, including Staten Island, the New Jersey shore and the city of Hoboken, remained crippled from a record storm surge and flooding.

At least 87 people died in the superstorm that ravaged the northeastern US on Monday night. Officials said the number could climb as rescuers searched house-to-house through coastal towns.

The hunt for petrol added to a climate of uncertainty as the death toll and price tag of the storm rose.

“I’m so stressed out,” said Jessica Bajno (29), a schoolteacher from Elmont, Long Island, who was waiting in line for petrol. “I’ve been driving around to nearby towns all morning, and being careful about not running out of gas in the process. Everything is closed. I’m feeling anxious.”

More deaths were recorded overnight in the New York city borough of Staten Island, where authorities recovered 17 bodies after the storm lifted entire houses off their foundations. Among the dead were two boys, aged four and two, who were swept from their mother’s arms by floodwater, police said. In all, 38 people died in New York city, officials said.

The financial cost of the storm also promised to be staggering. Disaster modelling company Eqecat estimated Hurricane Sandy caused up to $20 billion in insured losses and $50 billion in economic losses, double its previous estimate. At the high end of the range, Sandy would rank as the fourth-costliest catastrophe ever in the US, according to the Insurance Information Institute, behind Hurricane Katrina in 2005, 9/11 attacks of 2001 and Hurricane Andrew in 1992.

In hard-hit New Jersey, where oceanside towns saw neighbourhoods swallowed by seawater and the Atlantic City boardwalk was destroyed, the death toll doubled to 12. Floodwater receded from the streets of Hoboken, across the Hudson river from Manhattan, leaving behind a stinky mess of submerged basements and displaced cars littering the footpaths.

“The water was rushing in. It was like a river coming,” said Benedicte Lenoble, a photo researcher from Hoboken. “Now it’s a mess everywhere. There’s no power. The stores aren’t open. Recovery? I don’t know.” In neighbouring Jersey City, drivers negotiated intersections without traffic lights. Shops were shuttered and lines formed outside pharmacies while people piled sodden mattresses and furniture along the streets. The city imposed a curfew and banned driving between 7pm and 7am.

New Jersey favourite son Bruce Springsteen, along with Jon Bon Jovi and Sting, will headline a benefit concert for storm victims tonight on NBC television, the network announced.

The US government agreed to cover emergency power and public transportation costs completely until November 9th in eight New Jersey counties. The Federal Emergency Management Agency, which already pledged aid directly to victims and local governments, told New Jersey’s US senators of the decision, an aide to senator Frank Lautenberg said.

The scarcity of fuel, electricity and supplies made the clean-up more daunting for barrier towns such as Seaside Heights, part of the Jersey Shore.

Seaside Heights residents who obeyed the mandatory evacuation order were cut off from their homes. The entire neighbourhood was submerged by the storm surge that washed over the island and into the bay that separates it from the mainland.

“The bay met the ocean,” said Frank Meszaros (43), standing next to the closed bridge that kept him from returning home.

Chris Delman (30) saw a photograph of his house in a local newspaper Wednesday, noticing it was still standing. “We ain’t living in Seaside no more, that’s obvious,” he said. “I just want to know what I have left.” – (Reuters)