Worn-out, powerless residents dig in as nor’easter hits

Posted at 7:51 PM, Nov 07, 2012
and last updated 2012-11-07 21:51:46-05
By David Ariosto and Tom Watkins


NEW YORK (CNN) — A mix of heavy rain, wind and snow pelted the U.S. Northeast on Wednesday, as more than 600,000 households that have been without power for nine days prepared for a long, cold night.

“While this storm is not as dangerous as Sandy was, New Yorkers should still take safety precautions today and tonight,” New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg told reporters Wednesday.

Forecasters predicted gusts of up to 60 mph in shore towns and cities across New York and New Jersey, bringing 2- to 4-foot storm surges just as homes and office buildings had begun to dry out and floodwaters to recede after Superstorm Sandy.

Coastal erosion caused by last week’s storm has sparked fears of more flooding in storm-battered communities, while incoming cold weather was expected to hamper utility restoration efforts across the region.

“Strong winds, combined with the saturated soils after Sandy’s impact, will create another threat for more downed trees and power lines,” CNN meteorologist Sarah Dillingham said. “The silver lining there may be is that Sandy took many of the leaves off the trees, so there might not be as many downed trees and branches this time.”

Bloomberg urged residents in the city’s low-lying areas — especially Breezy Point, Hamilton Beach and Gerritsen Beach — to “consider going someplace else tonight, to be a little bit on the safe side.”

But he issued no mandatory evacuation orders, other than for a handful of chronic-care facilities and an adult-care center in areas that were hit hard by Sandy.

“If people think you’re crying wolf, the next time, when it’s really a serious threat, they might not do it,” the mayor said.

That was not the case in New Jersey, where the Brick Township Office of Emergency Management issued a mandatory evacuation order for all residents of low-lying waterfront areas of town.

Meanwhile, freezing temperatures ushered in snow and potentially deadly conditions for those without shelter, as displaced residents struggled to stay warm with generators and blankets. Others continued to camp with family and neighbors as they awaited the return of electricity.

On Tuesday night, about 8,500 Sandy victims had taken refuge in more than 100 Red Cross shelters. Temperatures were expected to dip again Wednesday night into the 20s, forecasters said.

Shelters were opened across the city for displaced residents or those without power.

“We think we’re ready for anything,” said Bloomberg, who ordered patrol officers to use their cruisers’ loudspeakers to encourage elderly or homebound residents to go somewhere warm and safe and advised residents to check on neighbors.

More than a week after Sandy struck the Northeast, its death toll in New York City climbed to 41 as a 78-year-old man died Tuesday of injuries suffered in the storm, police said.

The continuing recovery effort had already left thousands of area residents tired, homeless and looking for answers.

New York City’s Penn Station was shut Wednesday evening because of overcrowding after the Long Island Railroad halted service systemwide, Metropolitan Transit Authority spokeswoman Marjorie Anders told CNN.

The stations reopened later in the evening and service resumed, she said.

Weather-related problems, including downed trees and wires, led officials to suspend Long Island Railroad service out of Manhattan’s Penn Station and Brooklyn’s Atlantic Terminal, Anders said.

As many as 20,000 households across New York City and Westchester County were not expected to be back online by the weekend because of damage to their homes’ electrical systems, officials said.

Contractors will need to check the electrical wiring in each home and business to ensure that power can be safely restored, Bloomberg said. Salt-caked wiring could ignite once the power is restored.

On Long Island’s hard-hit coast, towns such as Oceanside remained largely without power.

“The lights came on for three minutes here. Everybody cheered like A-Rod (Alex Rodriguez) hit one out at Yankee Stadium,” said Rick Wolkenberg. “Then there was this weird hum and everything went out again. They teased us, and now we’re sitting here in the dark again.”

The 59-year-old mortgage lender said his staff has been working for days in his office by means of a small generator and flashlights.

“Everyone’s really frazzled, angry,” he said. “It’s not just the power. Now it’s getting an electrician to evaluate the house, then getting a plumber — and nobody’s coming because they’re all overwhelmed.”

His 81-year-old mother, Edith, moved in with his family after Sandy slammed through her home in Oceanside.

“There just seems so many obstacles now,” Wolkenberg said.

In all, 607,000 customers were without power Wednesday in New York and New Jersey.

More than 170,000 of them were in areas across Long Beach, Atlantic Beach, Fire Island and Rockaway Peninsula.

But Con Edison said it had restored power to more than 90% of its customers, leaving 12,500 households in Queens, 10,400 in Brooklyn, 3,500 in Staten Island and 4,200 in the Bronx without electricity as the cold weather moved in.

About 39,000 customers in Westchester County also remained in the dark.

By Wednesday, New Jersey’s largest power provider, PSE&G, said it had restored power to about 89% of its storm-hit customers, leaving more than 190,000 still in the dark.

“It is like a war zone down there,” Gov. Chris Christie said, referring to places such as Ocean County’s Mantoloking, where flooding and fires wiped out large sections of the town last week.

At least 20 homes burned to the ground there, mirroring an incident in Breezy Point, a Queens neighborhood where a cluster of more than 100 houses caught fire during the storm.

“We don’t know what to expect for the flooding situation as the shorelines have been changed,” Christie said. “For many of them, the dunes are gone. So, moderate flooding under normal conditions becomes major in these conditions.”

More than three-fourths of New Jersey’s school systems were operating Wednesday and 1,728 public schools were open in New York.

Elsewhere, there were signs of the region rebounding.

The PATH train between New Jersey and New York resumed limited service under the Hudson River on Tuesday, after being shut down ahead of the storm.

Commuter traffic reopened early Wednesday in the Holland Tunnel, where about 91,000 vehicles typically pass under the Hudson River between Manhattan and Jersey City, New Jersey.

Air travel continued to be affected. Authorities advised air travelers to check with their carriers ahead of the storm.

“Airlines serving the Port Authority’s major airports — Newark Liberty International, John F. Kennedy International and LaGuardia — have canceled all or a significant number of their flights beginning at noon today and continuing through early tomorrow,” the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey said Wednesday in a statement.

United Airlines, the world’s largest air carrier, suspended most New York City service starting at noon, while American Airlines was expected to shut down in New York at 3 p.m. and stop flights to and from Philadelphia by noon.

More than 1,700 flights in the New York region were canceled on Tuesday and Wednesday, said FlightAware, which describes itself “the most popular flight tracking service in the country.”

CNN’s Kristen Hamill, Katia Hetter and Rob Frehse contributed to this report

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