The region hit by superstorm Sandy was a patchwork of returning normality and despair, as bodies of the more than 90 dead across several U.S. states continued to be found but more communities were recovering power, gas and other basic needs. The total U.S. damage from the storm could run as high as $50 billion.

The bodies of two young boys who had been torn from their mother’s arms in the storm surge were recovered from a marsh in New York City’s Staten Island, where at least 19 people were killed near half of the city’s death toll and some garbage-piled streets remained flooded.

James Molinaro, the borough’s president, said the American Red Cross “is nowhere to be found.”

The island is the starting point of the world’s largest New York City Marathon, which the city has declared would start from Staten Island as usual on Sunday, though backlash against that decision grew. The race attracts a large number of international runners among its more than 40,000 participants.

Across the New York and New Jersey region at the heart of the natural disaster, the vast transport systems lurched to life, but tempers were short in long lines for gas. In New York, a man was accused of pulling a gun on Thursday on a motorist who complained when he cut in line at a gas station; no one was injured. The opening of the ports promised to relieve fuel shortages.

More subway and rail lines were expected to open on Friday, including Amtrak’s New York to Boston route on the Northeast Corridor.

And millions of people remained without power, though officials have said power would return this weekend to downtown Manhattan, where community groups began an effort to go door to door to check on the elderly and others who may not have been able to leave their homes for a fourth day because of pitch-black hallways and many flights of stairs.

“It’s too much. You’re in your house. You’re freezing,” said Geraldine Giordano, 82, a lifelong resident. Near her home, city employees had set up a sink where residents could get fresh water, if they needed it. There were few takers. “Nobody wants to drink that water,” Ms. Giordano said.

Along the devastated Jersey Shore, residents were allowed back in their neighbourhoods on Thursday for the first time since Superstorm Sandy made landfall on Monday night. Many homes were wiped out.

After touring a flood-ravaged area of northeastern New Jersey, Governor Chris Christie said it was time to act, not mourn. But in Staten Island, police recounted Glenda Moore’s fruitless struggle to save her children.

New York Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly said the 39-year-old mother “was totally, completely distraught” after her SUV stalled in the rising tide and she lost her grip on her sons as they tried to escape. In a panic, she climbed fences and went door-to-door looking in vain for help in a neighbourhood that was presumably largely abandoned in the face of the storm.

She eventually gave up, spending the night trying to shield herself from the storm on the front porch of an empty home.

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