NATIONAL Guard troops continued their daunting search and rescue efforts and firefighters faced down further blazes yesterday in some of the areas hit hardest by superstorm Sandy, which has so far killed at least 63 people.
• At least 63 deaths reported
• President Obama hails good preparation for limiting number of deaths
President Barack Obama last night credited good preparation for limiting the loss of life as thousands of people were evacuated from the flooded city of Hoboken in New Jersey.
Fire officials elsewhere in the ravaged state were confronted by blazes rekindled by natural gas leaks, in towns swamped by a record storm surge.
Nearly 48 hours after the peak of the disaster, millions of people began the arduous process of returning to daily life, though many were left inconsolable after witnessing at first hand the storm’s terrifying power.
The death toll to date is 27 people in New York and six in New Jersey, with fatalities in seven other states, adding to the 71 confirmed fatalities in the Caribbean.
Financially, forecasting firm IHS Global Insight predicted Sandy had wrought about £12.4 billion in damage, with up to £18.6bn in lost business on top of that.
Ordinary Americans spoke of being heartbroken after seeing their homes reduced to rubble, yet acknowledged feeling lucky to be alive.
Mr Obama visited the worst-affected regions of New Jersey
accompanied by the state’s
Republican governor, Chris Christie. He said the government’s main focus was on the four hardest-hit states – New Jersey, New York, Connecticut and West Virginia.
The president promised to use military resources if necessary to help people get to work or school and encouraged stricken citizens to immediately start registering for emergency assistance.
He said: “We are here for you and we will not forget. We will follow up to make sure that you get all the help that you need until you rebuild.”
About 6.2 million homes and businesses were still without power, including four million in New York and New Jersey. Electricity was out as far west as Wisconsin and as far south as the Carolinas.
Janet Napolitano, secretary of the Department for Homeland Security, said: “We are now in recovery mode – we are moving large amounts of resources into the affected areas. It will be one of the most, if not the most, extensive and expensive [storms] in our history.”
Troops in Hoboken helped evacuate thousands of people still stuck in their homes, delivering meals to the stranded.
Live wires dangled in floodwaters that mayor Dawn Zimmer said were rapidly mixing with sewage. Firefighters were unable to reach blazes sparked by natural gas leaks in the heavily hit shore town of Mantoloking, where more than a dozen homes were destroyed.
Mr Christie earlier took a helicopter tour along the coast, where he saw how boardwalks had been washed away and roads blocked by massive sand drifts. Stopping in a badly damaged town of Avalon, he appeared awestruck by the scale of the destruction.
“I was just here walking this summer, and the fact that most of it is gone is just incredible,” he said. He met several residents during the visit, seeing for himself the raw emotions left in Sandy’s wake.
One woman wept openly while Walter Patrickis, 42, simply told him: “I lost everything.”
Barry Prezioso, of Point Pleasant, saw his beachfront home ruined by the might of the storm, but expressed optimism. He explained: “It’s heartbreaking after being here 37 years, it’s tough.
“But nobody got hurt and the upstairs is still livable, so we can still live upstairs.”
The vast infrastructure of New York slowly began to emerge from the paralysis, even though swaths of the city remained under several feet of water. There were limited services at JFK and Newark airports and the New York Stock Exchange re-opened for business, albeit running on generator power.
Tourism also returned to the city with museums, the Empire State Building, Broadway theatres and stores all re-opening.
Power company Consolidated Edison said it would be four days before the last of the 337,000 families in Manhattan and Brooklyn who lost power had electricity again, and it could take a week to restore light and heat in the Bronx, Queens, Staten Island and Westchester County.
Five-hundred patients had to be evacuated yesterday from New York’s flagship public hospital Bellevue due to power cuts.
Officials continued to repair a subway system that had been overwhelmed by seawater. Ordinarily used by five million commuters a day, it is likely to be several days before the huge network re-opens fully to passengers. Undeterred, morning rush-hour traffic was heavy as people started returning to work, many using packed buses. On the Brooklyn Bridge, closed earlier because of high winds, joggers and bikers made their way across before sunrise.