Storm Recovery Could Take Weeks as Millions Struggle
Wall Street and two major airports reopened, and National Guardsmen rushed to rescue flood victims as the Northeast limped into recovery mode Wednesday, two days after being pummeled by epic Hurricane Sandy.
For the first time since the storm battered the Northeast, killing at least 59 people and doing billions of dollars in damage, brilliant sunshine washed over the nation's largest city — a striking sight after days of gray skies, rain and wind.
Millions of people in New York City and other hard-hit areas will spend days or weeks recovering from the storm already seen as far more destructive than Hurricane Irene, which slammed into the same region a year ago.
Some early estimates of damage were at $50 billion, making it one of the costliest storms in U.S. history.
(Read More: Sandy's Economic Cost: $50 Billion and Counting)
At the New York Stock Exchange, running on generator power, Mayor Michael Bloomberg gave a thumbs-up and rang the opening bell to whoops from traders on the floor. Trading resumed after the first two-day weather shutdown since the Blizzard of 1888.
(Read More: Stock Market Back to Business After Sandy Setback)
"Sandy hit us very hard," Bloomberg told reporters, "but New Yorkers are resilient."
He later announced restrictions on auto travel — between 6 a.m. and midnight, cars need at least three occupants to cross over East River bridges and tunnels and the Lincoln Tunnel.
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said limited service would return Wednesday afternoon to suburban commuter train lines, and on Thursday to the city's subway system, which suffered the worst damage in its 108-year history. All 10 of the tunnels that carry commuters under the East River were flooded.
In Washington, the Labor Department said it would release the monthly employment report as scheduled Friday. A two-day government shutdown had threatened to delay the data, the last jobs report before Tuesday's presidential election.
Kennedy and Newark Liberty airports reopened with limited service just after 7 a.m. New York's LaGuardia Airport, which suffered far worse damage and where water covered parts of runways, remained closed. Airlines canceled more than 19,500 flights.
(Read More: For Travelers, Sandy's Aggravation Spans Globe)
Across the Hudson River from Manhattan, National Guard troops arrived in the heavily flooded city of Hoboken to help evacuate thousands still stuck in their homes and deliver ready-to-eat meals.
Live wires dangled in floodwaters that Mayor Dawn Zimmer said were rapidly mixing with sewage. Thousands of people were still holed up in their brownstones, condos, and other homes in the mile-square city.
Super storm Sandy's victims included 18 people in New York City, and a total of 23 in New York state, while six died in New Jersey. Seven other states reported fatalities.
About 6.5 million homes and businesses were still without power, including 4 million in New York and New Jersey. Electricity was out as far west as Wisconsin and as far south as the Carolinas.
In a sign that the problems created from Sandy were far from over, firefighters battled a fire at a sewage treatment plant on Long Island in New York.
The blaze started around 1:30 a.m. Wednesday at the Bay Park sewage treatment plant in East Rockaway. Officials said at least six fire departments were on the scene.
Fire ravaged the Breezy Point neighborhood in the borough of Queens, destroying 110 homes and damaging 20 while destroying still more in the nearby neighborhood of Belle Harbor. Remarkably, no fatalities were reported there.
"To describe it as looking like pictures we've seen of the end of World War II is not overstating it," Bloomberg said after touring the area.
The Brooklyn Bridge was closed a day earlier because of high winds. But on Wednesday, joggers and bikers made their way across before sunrise. One cyclist carried a flashlight. Car traffic was brisk but slowed going into Manhattan.
But high water prevented inspectors from immediately assessing damage to key equipment, raising the possibility that the nation's largest city could endure an extended shutdown of the system that 5 million people count on to get to work and school each day.
The chairman of the state agency that runs New York's subways, Joseph Lhota, said service might have to resume piecemeal, and experts said the cost of the repairs could be staggering.
Consolidated Edison said it would be four days before the last of the 337,000 customers in Manhattan and Brooklyn who lost power have electricity again and it could take a week to restore outages in the Bronx, Queens, Staten Island and Westchester County.
Floodwater led to explosions that disabled a power substation Monday night, contributing to the outages.
Amtrak announced that modified service along the Northeast Corridor would resume Thursday outside of New York. It said it hoped to restore service to New York City on Friday.
In Pennsylvania, Gov. Tom Corbett cited reported that Philadelphia's mass transit system were slowly coming back.
In Washington, the Smithsonian Institution's museums and National Zoo were reopening after shutting for two days.
Surveying the widespread damage, it was clear much of the recovery and rebuilding will take far longer.
When New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie stopped in Belmar, N.J., during a tour of the devastation, one woman wept openly and 42-year-old Walter Patrickis told him, "Governor, I lost everything."