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City, Snarled and Shaken, Faces Strain of Long Recovery

Wednesday, 31 Oct 2012 | 6:43 AM ET

Still hobbled by power failures and waterlogged transit, the New York region struggled to return to the rhythms of daily life on Wednesday, while facing the reality of a prolonged and daunting period of recovery.

Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg rang the bell to open the New York Stock Exchange in the morning after a two-day closing, the first for weather-related reasons since 1888, as Wall Street and other businesses began to shake off the storm and return to work.

But as the skies cleared and the sun poked out over Manhattan for the first time in days, the morning commute quickly froze to gridlock. People who normally took the subway or regional rail lines were forced into taxis or their own cars, clogging the streets. Drivers reported delays of hours, with vehicles lined up at the major crossings and at parking garages.

More than 4,000 cabs, which for the moment could be shared among harried commuters, offered another partial lifeline to those cut off by the continued suspension of subway service. Some ferries were expected to be crossing between New Jersey and Manhattan.

Newark Liberty International Airport opened at 7 a.m., and Kennedy International Airport also resumed operations, but many airlines were still working on a limited basis. La Guardia Airport remained closed after suffering damage.

State courtrooms in the city were also reopening. Connecticut, New Jersey and New York began reopening many closed roads and bridges on Tuesday.

Yet schools, parks and East River tunnels remained closed in the city, and many residents up and down the mid-Atlantic still stumbled through their morning routines with candles, flashlights or in darkness.

Amtrak said it would provide modified Northeast Regional service from Newark to points south. Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo announced on Wednesday that limited service would be restored to two commuter rail lines for New York’s suburbs — the Metro-North Railroad and the Long Island Rail Road — in the afternoon.

President Obama approved disaster declarations for New York and New Jersey, making them eligible for federal assistance for rebuilding. “All of us have been shocked by the force of mother nature,” said the president, who was expected to visit Atlantic City on Wednesday. He promised “all available resources” for recovery efforts.

“This is going to take some time,” Mr. Obama said. “It is not going to be easy for these communities to recover.”

In Hoboken, N.J., a city of 50,000 people across the Hudson River from Manhattan, local officials issued dire warnings about thousands of people stranded by flooding, and the National Guard began moving in on Wednesday morning to try to rescue them.

“Keep an eye out, go down to the lowest possible floor, but do not go outside,” the city said on its Facebook page. “Signal to get their attention.”

The toll — in lives disrupted or lost and communities washed out — was staggering. A rampaging fire reduced more than 100 houses to ash in Breezy Point, Queens. Explosions and downed power lines left the lower part of Manhattan and 90 percent of Long Island in the dark. The New York City subway system was paralyzed by flooded tunnels and was expect to remain silent for days.

Accidents claimed at least 59 lives in the United States and Canada, including 22 in the city, according to The Associated Press. Two boys — an 11-year-old Little League star and a 13-year-old friend — were killed when a 90-foot-tall tree smashed into the family room of a house in North Salem, N.Y. An off-duty police officer who led seven relatives, including a 15-month-old boy, to safety in the storm drowned when he went to check on the basement.

There was no immediate estimate of the losses from the storm, but the scope of the damage — covering more than a half-dozen states — pointed to tens of billions of dollars. Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey called it “incalculable.”

Rescuers looked for survivors in the drenched rubble in places like Atlantic City, and state and local officials surveyed wreckage. Utility crews began working their way through a wilderness of fallen trees and power lines. And from Virginia to Connecticut, there were stories of tragedy and survival — of people who lost everything when the water rushed in, of buildings that crumbled after being pounded hour after hour by rain and relentless wind, of hospitals that had to be evacuated when the storm knocked out the electricity.

Mr. Obama spoke with 20 governors and mayors on a conference call Tuesday, and the White House said he would survey damage from the storm with Mr. Christie on Wednesday. The White House said Mr. Obama would join Mr. Christie, who has been one of his harshest Republican critics, in talking with storm victims and thanking first responders.

The president had also offered to visit the city, Mr. Bloomberg said, “but I think the thing for him to do is to go to New Jersey and represent the country.”

Mr. Bloomberg said 7,000 trees had been knocked down in city parks. “Stay away from city parks,” he said. “They are closed until further notice.”

The mayor also said that trick-or-treating was fine for Halloween, but the parade in Greenwich Village had been postponed. The organizers said it was the first time in the parade’s 39-year-history that it had been called off.

New York’s subway network, which suffered the worst damage in its 108-year-history, faced one of its longest shutdowns because the problems were so much worse than expected, said Joseph J. Lhota, the chairman and chief executive of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, the agency that runs the subways and several commuter railroads.

Water climbed to the ceiling of the South Ferry subway station, the end of the No. 1 line in Lower Manhattan, and debris covered tracks in stations up and down other lines after the water rushed in and out. Mr. Lhota said that seven subway tunnels between Manhattan and Brooklyn were flooded.

The Long Island Rail Road’s West Side Yards had to be evacuated, and two railroad tunnels beneath the East River were flooded in the storm. The railroad had no timetable for restoring service. The Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel and the Queens-Midtown Tunnel also remained impassable, he said.

Airports, too, took a beating. Thousands of flights were canceled, and water poured onto the runways at Kennedy and La Guardia, both in Queens. Governor Cuomo said La Guardia had suffered “extensive damage.”

The flooding in the tunnels in Lower Manhattan was so serious that the Federal Emergency Management Agency asked specialists from the Army Corps of Engineers to help. The “unwatering team,” as it is known — two hydrologists and two mechanical engineers from the corps with experience in draining flooded areas — flew to the airport in White Plains because it was one of the few in the area that was open.

From southern New Jersey to the East End of Long Island to the northern suburbs in Connecticut, power companies spent Tuesday trying to figure out just how much damage the storm had done to their wires, transformers and substations.

The work will take at least a week, possibly longer, because the damage was so extensive, and utility companies called in thousands of crews from all around the country to help out. Consolidated Edison reached to San Francisco to bring in 150 workers from Pacific Gas and Electric.

Even with the additional staffing, Con Edison said it could still take more than 10 days to complete the repairs. Con Edison had more than 285,000 customers in Manhattan who were in the dark on Tuesday, and more than 185,000 in Westchester.

Things were worse east of New York City, where nearly one million customers of the Long Island Power Authority did not have power on Tuesday and Mr. Cuomo made clear he wanted the authority to restore power faster than it had in the past. He said it was “not O.K.” for it to take two weeks to repair lines brought down by tree limbs.

In New Jersey, Public Service Electric and Gas said it had 1.3 million electric customers in the dark, including 500,000 without power because a surge in Newark Bay flooded substations and other equipment. Another New Jersey utility, Jersey Central Power and Light, whose territory covers many shore towns, said almost all of its customers had lost power in some counties, including Ocean and Monmouth. More than one-third of Connecticut Light and Power’s 1.2 million customers had no electricity, either.

The fire in Breezy Point, Queens, leveled scores of houses, among them one that belonged to Representative Bob Turner, who was riding out the storm at home despite the mayor’s order to evacuate low-lying areas. Mr. Turner’s spokeswoman, Jessica Proud, said he and his wife made it out safely after flames reached their house. Michael R. Long, the chairman of the state Conservative Party, had a home nearby that also burned down, she said.

Flooded streets in the area prevented firefighters from reaching the blaze, a Fire Department spokesman said, and the mayor, who toured the area on Tuesday afternoon, said the neighborhood had been devastated.

“To describe it as looking like pictures we have seen at the end of World War II is not overstating it,” the mayor said.

The off-duty officer who drowned in his basement was identified as Artur Kasprzak, 28, who was assigned to the First Precinct in Manhattan. He had led seven relatives upstairs to the attic as the water rose in his house on Doty Avenue on Staten Island. He said he was going to check the basement and would be right back. About 20 minutes later, one of his relatives called 911 and said he was missing.

A rescue team with boats and motorized water scooters tried to answer the call but could not reach the house at first because power lines were in the water. His body was found shortly before sunrise.

Reporting on the storm was contributed by Peter Applebome, Charles V. Bagli, Nina Bernstein, Joseph Berger, Russ Buettner, John H. Cushman Jr., David W. Dunlap, Theo Emory, Ann Farmer, Sheri Fink, Emma Fitzsimmons, Lisa W. Foderaro, Joseph Goldstein, J. David Goodman, Michael M. Grynbaum, Danny Hakim, David M. Halbfinger, Christine Hauser, Anemona Hartocollis, Winnie Hu, Jon Hurdle, Kristin Hussey, Thomas Kaplan, Mark Landler, John Leland, Eric Lipton, Elizabeth Maker, Andrew Martin, Cynthia McCloud, Patrick McGeehan, Colin Moynihan, Sarah Maslin Nir, Sharon Otterman, Amisha Padnani, Michael Powell, Julia Preston, William K. Rashbaum, Ray Rivera, Liz Robbins, Sam Roberts, Wendy Ruderman, Marc Santora, Michael S. Schmidt, John Schwartz, Nate Schweber, Mosi Secret, Katharine Q. Seelye, Kirk Semple, Kim Severson, Brian Stelter, Kate Taylor, Joyce Wadler, Timothy Williams, Michael Wilson and Steven Yaccino.