×

WRAPUP 4-Housing crisis looms as US storm victims battle cold

* 30,000 to 40,000 will need shelter, New York mayor says

* Death toll reaches 111 as temperatures dip near freezing

* Fuel and power still short; concern over Tuesday election

* Disappointed marathoners regroup, organize benefit runs

NEW YORK, Nov 4 (Reuters) - A housing crisis loomed in New York City as victims of superstorm Sandy struggled on Sunday without heat in near-freezing temperatures, and officials fretted displaced residents would not be able to vote in Tuesday's presidential election.

Fuel shortages and power outages lingered nearly a week after one of the worst storms in U.S. history flooded homes in coastal neighborhoods, leaving many without heat and in need of shelter. Mayor Michael Bloomberg said 30,000 to 40,000 people in New York City alone would need housing.

Overnight, at least two more bodies were found in New Jersey - one dead of hypothermia - as the overall North American death toll from Sandy climbed to at least 111.

``People are in homes that are uninhabitable,'' New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said alongside Bloomberg at a news conference. ``People don't like to leave their home, but the reality is going to be in the temperature.''

Officials were figuring out how to provide short- and long-term housing for tens of thousands of people, Cuomo said.

Immediate plans call for keeping those who have been displaced as near as possible to their homes, but Cuomo and other officials gave few details about where they would be housed.

Temperatures dipped to 39 Fahrenheit (4 degrees Celsius) early on Sunday morning in New York City, the lowest in days, with freezing temperatures expected overnight. An early-season ``Nor'easter'' storm was expected to hit the battered New England coast this week with strong winds and heavy rain.

Fuel supplies continued to rumble toward disaster zones and electricity was slowly returning to darkened neighborhoods, after the storm slammed the coast last Monday.

It would be a ``very, very long time'' before power would return to certain neighborhoods along the coast, where buildings were destroyed, Bloomberg said. Cuomo said fuel shortages are improving but problems will persist for ``a number of days.''

RUINED THINGS

In the hard-hit borough of Staten Island, Marie Mandia's house had a yellow sticker on it, meaning the city restricted her use of it. The storm surge broke through her windows and flooded her basement and main floor, the retired teacher said.

``I'm not staying here. There's no protection,'' said Mandia, 60, who stood outside by a pile of her ruined things - a washer, drier, television and furniture. ``Here's my life. Everybody's looking at it.''

On Friday, Bloomberg abruptly called off the city's marathon, which was set for Sunday, bowing to criticism that the event would divert resources from flood-ravaged neighborhoods. Instead, hundreds of runners set off on informal runs to deliver food and clothes to Staten Island and other areas in need.

Power restorations over the weekend relit the skyline in Lower Manhattan for the first time in nearly a week and allowed 80 percent of the New York City subway service to resume. But with most schools reopening on Monday, the commute was expected to be slow.

Some 1.9 million homes and business still lacked power across the Northeast on Sunday, down from 2.5 million the day before.

Despite the successes in returning power across the region, a quarter of New Jersey and almost a tenth of New York remained in the dark, the Department of Energy said. Just after Sandy tore across the densely populated area, more than 8.5 million customers were without power.

``All these numbers are nice but they mean nothing until the power is on in your house,'' said Cuomo, who warned he would hold the utility companies accountable ``100 percent'' for their recovery work.

ELECTION FACES 'REAL PROBLEMS'

President Barack Obama, neck-and-neck in opinion polls with Republican challenger Mitt Romney, ordered emergency response officials to cut through government ``red tape'' and work without delay to help affected areas return to normal.

Concerns meanwhile are growing that voters displaced by Sandy won't get to polling stations on Tuesday. Scores of voting centers were rendered useless by the record surge of seawater in New York and New Jersey.

Bloomberg said the Board of Elections has ``real problems,'' and that the city will do all it can to get people to the polls. Some voters in New York could be casting their ballots in tents, while New Jersey is allowing displaced voters to vote by email.

With the post-storm chaos overshadowing the final days of campaigning, an NBC/Wall Street Journal poll released on Sunday found that 68 percent of those surveyed approved of how Obama handled Sandy and just 15 percent disapproved.

The two new deaths in New Jersey - where the storm came ashore last Monday night - included a 71-year-old man who suffered from hypothermia and a 55-year-old man who died from smoke inhalation in a house fire, police said on Sunday.

That raised New Jersey's death toll to 24 while the New York City death count was 40.

Sandy killed 69 people in the Caribbean before turning north and hammering the U.S. Eastern Seaboard on Monday with 80 mile-per-hour (130-kph) winds and a record surge of seawater that swallowed oceanside communities, halted transportation and flooded streets and New York City subway tunnels, where electronics were damaged by sea water.

In another sign of recovery, New York University's Langone Medical Center planed a partial reopening of its doctors' offices, out-patient procedure and testing sites on Monday. The hospital lost power as Sandy hammered down, forcing patient evacuations Monday night.

RELIEF RUNS

New York's overstretched police got a break with the cancellation of the marathon, a popular annual race that was expected to draw more than 40,000 runners to the city from around the world.

More than 1,000 people, many of whom had planned to run the race, crowded onto two Staten Island Ferry boats early on Sunday, headed to the stricken borough with relief supplies including food and plastic bags.

Lara Duerrschmid, 27, was among the marathon runners boarding a ferry to help residents of Staten Island. ``I know it's going to be tough to see (the damage), but I just wanted to do something good,'' she said.

New York's Central Park also was crowded with runners near what would have been the marathon's finish line, scores of them shivering in the cold Sunday morning and collecting donations for Sandy victims.

Meanwhile, tight gasoline supplies have in the last few days tested the patience of drivers, with fistfights breaking out in mile-long (1.6 km) lines of cars. But a reopened New York Harbor meant fuel was reaching terminals, even as major facilities remained idle.

Portable generators were requested for 120 gasoline stations without power, said U.S. Senator Charles Schumer, a Democrat from New York.