The cleanup of miles of New Jersey shorefront ripped apart by Superstorm Sandy has just begun, but New York City moved closer to resuming its normal frenetic pace by getting back its vital subways.
The decision to reopen undamaged parts of the nation’s largest transit system Thursday came as the region struggled to recover from a storm that killed more than 70 people and left more than 5 million without power.
Two of the region’s main airports opened Wednesday and officials promised that the third, LaGuardia Airport, would return to service Thursday. Actors and eager audiences brought darkened Broadway theatres back to life. And New Yorkers packed on to buses that returned for the first time to city streets since the storm, joining a throng of gridlocked traffic that navigated the city without working stop lights.
Across the region, people stricken by the storm pulled together, in some cases providing comfort to those left homeless, in others offering hot showers and electrical outlets for charging cellphones to those without power.
The spirit of can-do partnership extended even to politicians, who at least made the appearance of putting their differences aside to focus together on Sandy.
“We are here for you,” President Barack Obama said in New Jersey while touring a ravaged shore. “We are not going to tolerate red tape. We are not going to tolerate bureaucracy.”
Obama joined Republican Gov. Chris Christie, who had been one of the most vocal supporters of Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney, to tour the ravaged coast. But the two men spoke only of helping those harmed by the storm.
That was already beginning Wednesday, when masses of people walked shoulder-to-shoulder across the Brooklyn Bridge to Manhattan for work, reversing the escape scenes from the Sept. 11 terror attack and the blackout of 2003. They reached an island, where many people took the lack of power and water and transportation as a personal challenge.
On Third Avenue, people gathered like refugees around a campfire. But instead of crackling flames, their warmth came from more advanced technology- a power strip that had been offered to charge cellphones.
At a fire hydrant in New York’s West 16th Street, 9-year-old Shiyin Ge and her brother, 12-year-old Shiyuan Ge, stood in line to fill up buckets of water. But unlike the adults, the two kids held plastic Halloween candy pails painted with grinning jack-o-lanterns.
“There’s no water in our house,” said Shiyin Ge, who had planned to dress up as a ladybug for Halloween.
After suffering the worst disaster in its 108-year-old history, the subways were to roll again at least some of them. More than a dozen of the lines would offer some service, but none below Manhattan’s 34th Street, a line of demarcation in the city separating the hardest-hit residents from those who escaped the brunt.
Downtown Manhattan, which includes the city’s financial district, Sept. 11 memorial and other tourist sites, was still mostly an urban landscape of shuttered bodegas and boarded-up restaurants, where people roamed in search of food, power and a hot shower.
To get there from Brooklyn or Queens, commuters who would normally zoom beneath the East River in tunnels that flooded will have to take shuttle buses, adding to the enormous stress already being placed on gridlocked Manhattan streets.
“We are going to need some patience and tolerance,” New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Wednesday.
The airports and subways weren’t the only transportation systems returning to the region. Suburban trains started running for the first time on Wednesday, and Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor was to take commuters from city to city for on Friday for the first time since the storm.
It is clear, however, that restoring the region to its ordinarily frenetic pace could take days and that rebuilding the hardest—hit communities and the transportation networks could take considerably longer.
There were still only hints of the economic impact of the storm.
Forecasting firm IHS Global Insight predicted it would cause $20 billion in damage and $10 billion to $30 billion in lost business. Another firm, AIR Worldwide, estimated losses up to $15 billion.
About 6 million homes and businesses were still without power, mostly in New York and New Jersey. Electricity was out as far west as Wisconsin in the Midwest and as far south as the Carolinas.
In New Jersey, signs of the good life that had defined wealthy shorefront enclaves like Bayhead and Mantoloking lay scattered and broken- $3,000 barbecue grills buried beneath the sand and hot tubs cracked and filled with seawater. Nearly all the homes were seriously damaged, and many had entirely disappeared.
“This,” said Harry Typaldos, who owns the Grenville Inn in Mantoloking, “I just can’t comprehend.”
Most of the state’s mass transit systems remained shut down, leaving hundreds of thousands of commuters braving clogged highways and quarter-mile lines at gas stations. Atlantic City’s casinos remained closed. Christie postponed Halloween until Monday, saying trick-or-treating wasn’t safe in towns with flooded and darkened streets, fallen trees and downed power lines.
Farther north in Hoboken, just across the Hudson River from Manhattan, nearly 20,000 residents remained stranded in their homes, amid accusations that officials have been slow to deliver food and water. One man blew up an air mattress and floated to City Hall, demanding to know why supplies hadn’t gotten out. At least one—fourth of the city’s residents are flooded and 90 percent are without power.
On New York’s Long Island, bulldozers scooped sand off streets and tow trucks hauled away destroyed cars, while residents tried to find a way to their homes to restart their lives. Joanne and Richard Kalb used a rowboat to reach their home in Mastic Beach, filled with 3 feet (1 meter) of water.