US begins recovery after storm

Wed, Oct 31, 2012, 00:00

The US north east began crawling back to normal today after monster storm Sandy crippled transportation, knocked out power for millions and killed at least 45 people in nine states with a massive storm surge and rain that caused epic flooding.

US president Barack Obama joined one of his top Republican critics to visit victims of superstorm Sandy today.

It gave Americans a high-profile display of presidential leadership while leaving rival Mitt Romney on the sidelines less than a week before election day.

Mr Obama visited New Jersey, the state hardest hit by the storm which hammered much of the north-eastern United States, accompanied by Republican governor Chris Christie.

The governor has been one of Mr Romney’s most prominent supporters, but he has been effusive in his praise of Mr Obama’s response to the storm.

Mr Christie greeted Mr Obama as Air Force One landed on a sunny, breezy day in Atlantic City. The two men boarded the presidential helicopter for an hour-long aerial tour of the storm damage.

Although Mr Obama has suspended campaigning for three days in a tight race and New Jersey is safe Democratic territory, the tour with Mr Christie offers him clear advantages.

He can appear to be in command, directing US aid and showing concern for the storm’s victims. The appearance with Mr Christie also makes him look bipartisan at a time of deep division in US politics.

Mr Romney, meanwhile, must walk a careful line. Aggressive attacks on Mr Obama could appear unseemly during a national crisis. Yet he is running out of time to make his case to voters ahead of next Tuesday’s vote.

Polls show the candidates virtually tied. But the winner will be determined in state-by-state votes, and a handful of states that are not clearly Democratic or Republican will determine the outcome. Mr Obama appears to have a slight lead in the state tallies.

Mr Obama’s campaign announced today that he planned to resume campaign travel tomorrow after a three-day pause, with stops in Nevada, Colorado and Wisconsin.

Meanwhile, US National Guard troops are conducting a major rescue operation in Hoboken, New Jersey, to help tens of thousands of people trapped in their homes by flooding since Hurricane Sandy hit the US east coast on Monday.

As soldiers conducted sweeps of the city to free residents, Hoboken authorities warned those stranded in their homes not to go outside, even when help arrives.

The National Guard troops are picking people up and taking them to emergency shelters, according to city authorities.

An estimated 20,000 people are trapped in their homes in the city, according to NCB TV. Many streets in the south remain under several feet of water, according to a city website.

When the storm hit, the Hudson river breached its banks, sending floodwater pouring into Hoboken, a commuter city located a ferry ride away from New York. The water is not expected to recede for 24 to 48 hours.

More than half of all gasoline service stations in the New York City area and New Jersey were shut today because of power outages and depleted fuel supplies, frustrating attempts to restore normal life after Hurricane Sandy, industry officials said.

Reports of long lines, dark stations and empty tanks circulated across the region, with some station owners unable to pump fuel due to a lack of power. Others quickly ran their tanks dry because of intensified demand and logistical problems in delivering fresh supplies.

The lack of working gasoline stations is likely to compound travel problems in the region. Gasoline stations on New York's Long Island and the city borough of Staten Island also reported shortages, while lengthy lines were seen in the boroughs of Brooklyn and Queens. Commuters may see higher prices at the pumps in the coming days, though oil traders said it will also dampen demand for fuel and increase stockpiles in the region.

In New Jersey, where half of all businesses and homes were still without power, more than 80 per cent of filling stations are unable to sell gasoline, said Sal Risalvato, head of the New Jersey Gasoline, Convenience, Automotive Association.

"It's going to be an ugly few days until we can see both power and supplies restored," Mr Risalvato said.

New York City's subway system will resume operating on a limited basis tomorrow, four days after shutting down ahead of the arrival of Sandy, New York governor Andrew Cuomo said.

Limited service on suburban commuter rail lines serving Long Island to the east and Westchester County and Connecticut to the north would resume this afternoon, Mr Cuomo said at a press conference.

Trains were to begin operating on the Long Island Railroad and Metro North Railroad systems at 2pm (1800 GMT) today.

Mr Cuomo said the restored subway service would be supplemented by a "bus bridge" between Manhattan and Brooklyn, given that four of the seven tunnels connecting the two boroughs under the East River remain flooded. Three of the seven tunnels were now clear of water, he said.

In Manhattan, there would be no subway service south of 34th Street, Mr Cuomo said.

New York City counts an average of 5.3 million subway commuters each weekday. The system, which runs around the clock, comprises 21 subway routes linked by 468 stations, and stretches across 660 miles (1,062km) of track.

Mr Cuomo said officials faced a huge task to restore not only transportation services but other key portions of the city's infrastructure damaged when Sandy swept a record storm surge of nearly 4.3m over southern Manhattan and other low-lying waterfront areas..

John F Kennedy and Newark airports reopened with limited service after thousands of flights were canceled, leaving travellers stuck for days.

New York's LaGuardia Airport, the third of the airports that serve the nation's busiest airspace, was flooded and remained closed.

The storm killed 27 people in New York state, including 22 in New York City, and six in New Jersey. Seven other states reported fatalities, meanwhile. One disaster-modelling company said Sandy may have caused up to $15 billion in insured losses.

More than 8.2 million homes and businesses remained without electricity across several states after trees toppled by fierce winds tore down power lines.

Sunday's New York marathon is set go ahead as scheduled, but tonight's Halloween parade through Greenwich Village was postponed.

Guardian service/Agencies

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