New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg has said the city's marathon was cancelled after mounting criticism that it would be inappropriate to hold the race after the devastating storm Sandy hit the Eastern Seaboard of the US.
After initially defending his plan to hold Sunday's 26.2-mile race as scheduled, Bloomberg abruptly announced the cancellation in a statement released on Friday.
"We would not want a cloud to hang over the race or its participants, and so we have decided to cancel it," the mayor said.
However, he said, "We cannot allow a controversy over an athletic event - even one as meaningful as this - to distract attention away from all the critically important work that is being done to recover from the storm and get our city back on track."
With people in storm-ravaged areas still shivering without electricity and the death toll in New York at more than 40, many New Yorkers recoiled at the prospect of police officers being assigned to protect the marathon.
At a news conference, Deputy Mayor Howard Wolfson said it had become clear that "something that every year brings joy and unity to this city had become divisive and painful, and this is a city that's had enough pain in the last week and I don't think we need to add more."
And the uproar grew after the New York Road Runners Club, the race organiser, set up generators in Central Park for communications and other operations.
Mary Wittenberg, the club's director, said that as the controversy increased, she also was concerned about the reception runners may have received along the route.
The marathon is one of the premier distance-running events in the world, and storm victims could have been evicted from hotels to make room for people coming into town for the race.
At the midtown New Yorker Hotel, the lobby was filled with anguished runners, some crying and others with puffy eyes.
"I have no words," said Roberto Dell'Olmo, from Vercelli, Italy. "I would like that the money I gave from the marathon goes to victims."
'Rock You Like a Hurricane'
The marathon was expected to draw about 40,000 international runners - close to half from abroad - and many were continuing to arrive on Friday.
|The race normally goes through all five boroughs [GALLO/GETTY]
The athletes crowded the marathon expo, which was criticised after the heavy metal song "Rock You Like a Hurricane" was among the background music.
Bloomberg had earlier said he hoped to lift spirits and unite the stricken city when he decided to press ahead with this weekend's marathon.
Instead, the move became a source of division, with some New Yorkers - including many runners - saying it was not the time for a road race.
Critics complained that holding the event just six days after 'super storm' Sandy would be insensitive and tie up precious resources when many people are still suffering.
The annual event starts is in Staten Island, the hardest hit part of the city, where at least 19 people died.
Damage around $50bn
Meanwhile, the Manhattan skyline was mostly lit for the first time in five days Friday night, a sign of progress undercut by long lines at petrol stations and lack of electricity in many parts of the city.
Four days after Sandy slammed the mid-Atlantic region, the US death toll climbed past 100 in 10 states, and included two young brothers who were torn from their mother's grasp by rushing floodwaters in Staten Island during the storm. Their bodies were found in a marshy area on Thursday.
Hurricane Sandy earlier left another at least 69 people dead as it swept through the Caribbean.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg said the Con Edison utility company hoped to resolve most Manhattan power outages by midnight Friday. The news is not as good for the city's outer boroughs and parts of New Jersey, where customers may not have electricity until mid-November.
The total damage in the US from Sandy could run as high as $50bn, according to the forecasting firm Eqecat. That would make it the second-costliest storm in US history after Hurricane Katrina. That estimate includes property damage and lost business.
With fuel deliveries in the East disrupted by storm damage and many gas stations lacking electricity to run their pumps, petrol became a precious commodity, especially for those who depend on their cars for their livelihoods.
Millions without power
Some drivers complained of waiting three and four hours in line, only to see the pumps run dry when it was almost their turn. Others ran out before they reached the front of the line.
|John Terrett reports on the storm toll in Atlantic City
Police officers were assigned to maintain order. In the borough of Queens, a man was charged on Thursday with flashing a gun at another motorist who complained he was cutting in line.
At a Hess station early Friday in the Gowanus section of Brooklyn, the line snaked at least 10 blocks through narrow, busy streets. That caused confusion among other drivers.
More 3.8 million homes and business in the East were still without power, down from a peak of 8.5 million. Still, across the New York metropolitan area, there were signs that life was beginning to return to something approaching normal.
More subway and rail lines started operating again Friday, and the Holland Tunnel into New York was open to buses.
But there was increasing worry about the elderly. Community groups have been going door-to-door on the upper floors of darkened Manhattan apartment buildings.
A relief fund is being created just for storm survivors on Staten Island, former Mayor Rudolph Giuliani said on Friday. And Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and a top Federal Emergency Management Agency official planned to tour the island.