November 1, 2012

Exasperation builds in New York City

The Associated Press

NEW YORK — Frustration — and in some cases fear — mounted in New
York City on Thursday, three days after Superstorm Sandy. Traffic backed
up for miles at bridges, large crowds waited impatiently for buses into
Manhattan, and tempers flared in gas lines.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg said the city would send bottled water and
ready-to-eat meals into the hardest-hit neighborhoods through the
weekend, but some New Yorkers grew dispirited after days without power,
water and heat and decided to get out.

"It's dirty, and it's getting a little crazy down there," said Michael
Tomeo, who boarded a bus to Philadelphia with his 4-year-old son. "It
just feels like you wouldn't want to be out at night. Everything's pitch
dark. I'm tired of it, big-time."

Rima Finzi-Strauss decided to take bus to Washington. When the power
went out Monday night in her apartment building on the Lower East Side
of Manhattan, it also disabled the electric locks on the front door, she
said.

"We had three guys sitting out in the lobby last night with candlelight,
and very threatening folks were passing by in the pitch black," she
said. "And everyone's leaving. That makes it worse."

The mounting despair came even as the subways began rolling again after
a three-day shutdown. Service was restored to most of the city, but not
the most stricken parts of Manhattan and Brooklyn, where the tunnels
were flooded.

Bridges into the city were open, but police enforced a carpooling rule
and peered into windows to make sure each car had at least three people.
The rule was meant to ease congestion but appeared to worsen it. Traffic
jams stretched for miles, and drivers who made it into the city reported
that some people got out of their cars to argue with police.

Rosemarie Zurlo said she planned to leave Manhattan for her sister's
place in Brooklyn because her own apartment was freezing, "but I'll
never be able to come back here because I don't have three people to put
in my car."

With only partial subway service, lines at bus stops swelled. More than
1,000 people packed the sidewalk outside an arena in Brooklyn, waiting
for buses to Manhattan. Nearby, hundreds of people massed on a sidewalk.

When a bus pulled up, passengers rushed the door. A transit worker
banged on a bus window, yelled at people inside, and then yelled at
people in the line.

With the electricity out and gasoline supplies scarce, many gas stations
across the New York area remained closed, and stations that were open
drew long lines of cars that spilled out onto roads.

At a station near Coney Island, almost 100 cars lined up, and people
shouted and honked, and a station employee said he had been spit on and
had coffee thrown at him.

In a Brooklyn neighborhood, a station had pumps wrapped in police tape
and a "NO GAS" sign, but cars waited because of a rumor that gas was coming.

"I've been stranded here for five days," said Stuart Zager, who is from
Brooklyn and was trying to get to his place in Delray Beach, Fla. "I'm
afraid to get on the Jersey Turnpike. On half a tank, I'll never make it."

The worst was over at least for public transportation. The Long Island
Rail Road and Metro-North were running commuter trains again, though
service was limited. New Jersey Transit had no rail service but most of
its buses were back.

The storm killed at least 90 people in the U.S. New York City raised its
death toll on Thursday to 38, including two Staten Island boys, 2 and 4,
swept from their mother's arms by the floodwaters.

In New Jersey, many people were allowed back into their neighborhoods
Thursday for the first time since Sandy ravaged the coastline. Some
found minor damage, others total destruction.

The storm cut off barrier islands, smashed homes, wrecked boardwalks and
hurled amusement park rides into the sea. Atlantic City, on a barrier
island, remained under mandatory evacuation.

More than 4.6 million homes and businesses, including about 650,000 in
New York and its northern suburbs, were still without power.
Consolidated Edison, the power company serving New York, said
electricity should be restored by Saturday to customers in Manhattan and
to homes and offices served by underground power lines in Brooklyn.

In darkened neighborhoods, people walked around with miner's lamps on
their foreheads and bicycle lights clipped to shoulder bags and, in at
least one case, to a dog's collar. A Manhattan handyman opened a fire
hydrant so people could collect water to flush toilets.

"You can clearly tell at the office, or even walking down the street,
who has power and who doesn't," said Jordan Spiro, who lives in the
blackout zone. "New Yorkers may not be known as the friendliest bunch,
but take away their ability to shower and communicate and you'll see how
disgruntled they can get."

Some public officials expressed exasperation at the relief effort.

James Molinaro, president of the borough of Staten Island, suggested
that people not donate money to the American Red Cross because the Red
Cross "is nowhere to be found."

"We have hundreds of people in shelters throughout Staten Island," he
said. "Many of them, when the shelters close, have nowhere to go because
their homes are destroyed. These are not homeless people. They're
homeless now."

Josh Lockwood, the Red Cross' regional chief executive, said 10 trucks
began arriving to Staten Island on Thursday morning and a kitchen was
set up to distribute meals. Lockwood defended the agency, saying relief
workers were stretched thin.

"We're talking about a disaster where we've had shelters set up from
Virginia to Indiana to the state Maine, so there's just this tremendous
response," he said. "So I would say no one organization is going to be
able to address the needs of all these folks by themselves."

In Manhattan's Chelsea neighborhood, Mary Wilson, 75, was buying water
from a convenience store that was open but had no power. She said she
had been without running water or electricity for three days, and lived
on the 19th floor.

She walked downstairs Thursday for the first time because she ran out of
bottled water and felt she was going to faint. She said she met people
on the stairs who helped her down.

"I did a lot of praying: 'Help me to get to the main floor.' Now I've
got to pray to get to the top," she said. "I said, 'I'll go down today
or they'll find me dead.'"

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