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Storm Sandy’s Damage Will ‘Take Some Time’ as Transit, Power Hit

Storm Sandy’s Damage Will ‘Take Some Time’ as Transit, Power Hit
U.S. President Barack Obama is greeted by New Jersey Governor Chris Christie upon arriving in Atlantic City, New Jersey, on October 31, 2012. Photographer: Jewel Samad/AFP/Getty Images

The waterlogged Northeast U.S. emerged from the wreckage of Hurricane Sandy with renewed stock trading, air travel and pledges by government officials, from the White House on down, to help overcome the devastation from the worst Atlantic storm in the nation’s history.

“We will not quit until this is done,” President Barack Obama vowed yesterday during a news briefing with New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, after touring storm-ravaged parts of the state.

With damage still being assessed, predictions pegged the economic loss from the Texas-sized storm to be as much as $50 billion. Millions of people grappled with the disruptions from power outages, flooding and a crippled transit system, including New York City’s flooded subways.

“The challenge here for us is to build back and build back better,” said New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, who ordered fares waived on the subways, commuter trains and buses today and tomorrow as the region recovers. “The goal is to improve the city and state.”

At least 74 U.S. deaths were blamed on the storm, after at least 69 in the Caribbean, according to the Associated Press. While Sandy broke up over Pennsylvania yesterday, its remnants produced gale-force winds in the Great Lakes region and flood warnings, according to the National Weather Service.

Rainfall swamped several northeastern and Atlantic coastal areas, the weather service said. Wildwood Crest, New Jersey, reported 11.9 inches of rain. Easton, Maryland reported 12.5, while Georgetown, Delaware, received 10.2 inches.

Airports Reopening

Recovery from the storm was uneven. John F. Kennedy International and Newark Liberty International airports reopened yesterday, with more than 200 flights arriving at JFK, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said on a conference call with reporters. LaGuardia airport is to resume service today.

With much of its mass transit system out, New York City was gripped by massive traffic jams. Mayor Michael Bloomberg imposed mandatory carpooling, with 3 people per car, entering Manhattan via major bridges and tunnels. Limited subway service is to resume today, though none will reach Lower Manhattan, including the financial district, he said.

Halloween activities were canceled or postponed in many places. In New Jersey, Christie rescheduled holiday events for Nov. 5. In New York’s Greenwich Village, the Halloween Parade, an adult-themed tradition of music, 15-foot (4.6-meter) puppets and extravagant dress, was canceled, though Bloomberg said trick-or-treating could go ahead.

Road Repairs

The U.S. Transportation Department has given $10 million in highway funds to New York and $3 million to Rhode Island to help rebuild roads, seawalls, bridges and tunnels, LaHood said. The department expects more state funding requests, he said.

More than 11,000 storm victims were using 258 shelters in 16 states, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said yesterday on the conference call.

“Given the scope of the damage, it’s going to take some time to get power back on, roads cleared, transportation systems up and running again,” Napolitano said.

The number of U.S. homes and businesses blacked out by the storm dropped about 28 percent as utilities restrung wires and pumped out flooded equipment.

That still left 6.1 million homes and businesses without electricity in New Jersey, New York, Connecticut and 12 other eastern states, the Energy Department in Washington said in a statement. Snow from the storm blanketed parts of West Virginia, knocking out electricity to 22 percent of the state.

Record Tide

While lights flicked on in downtown Newark, New Jersey, progress was slow in the state where Sandy made landfall Oct. 29. Jersey Central Power & Light, a unit of Akron, Ohio-based FirstEnergy Corp., said 85 percent of its 1.1 million customers remained without service and some might be out for two weeks.

About 252 large generators were deployed to operate hospitals and nursing homes in the storm-hit region, and another 280 are en route, Napolitano said.

Christie, a Republican and a top supporter of his party’s presidential candidate, Mitt Romney, praised the Democrat Obama for “his personal concern and compassion for our state and the people of our state.”

“We have lots of challenges,” Christie said at a news briefing.

Economic Damage

Sandy may cause as much as $20 billion in economic damage and losses, according to Eqecat Inc., a risk-management company in Oakland, California. The U.S. economy may lose $30 billion in output because of Sandy, according to an analysis by Wells Fargo senior economist Mark Vitner.

The U.S. Navy is sending three large-deck amphibious ships to waters off of New York and New Jersey to assist in storm recovery and relief, Rear Admiral John Kirby said in a blog posting.

About 10,000 Army and Air National Guard personnel have been mobilized to provide support in the 13 states that were hit hardest, the Pentagon said.

In New York, the state and local governments are picking up recovery costs until the federal government reimburses them, Cuomo said. In typical circumstances, federal relief would cover up to 75 percent of their costs, he said. Since the region was declared a major disaster zone, it has a chance to tap between 90 percent and 100 percent, Cuomo said.

Federal Share

“We expect the federal government will pick up the lion’s share of the costs,” he said.

U.S. Senator Charles Schumer, a New York Democrat, said the destruction isn’t just an issue for New York, New Jersey and Connecticut, it’s one for the nation. Schumer said there’s $7.2 billion in the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s disaster relief fund.

“We’ll have to see what the damage assessments are,” Schumer said. “It may not be enough.”

“This is one of the biggest disasters to ever have struck this state and even this country,” Schumer said. “The federal response has to equal that scope.”

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