Frustration mounts at slow Sandy recovery

Millions remain without power and long queues remain at petrol stations as a winter storm approaches.

Roughly one million people in New York remain without power after Hurricane Sandy barreled into the northeast United States last week, and petrol rationing continues to force those in New Jersey and New York City to wait hours in queues.

The death toll in the US for the super storm, which made landfall on October 29 after devastating the Caribbean, has now reached more than 110, at least 40 of those in New York City.

About half of the city’s victims were on Staten Island, one of the city’s five boroughs, which lies across the harbour from lower Manhattan.

Twenty-two deaths were reported by authorities in hard-hit New Jersey and 13 in Pennsylvania.

Cath Turner reports from the Lower East Side of NYC

Many New Jersey residents were unhappy with local rescue work during the storm, saying they had to wait up to two days for local rescue teams to come.

Now, temperatures are dropping into the single digits, making power outages and a lack of gas to power generators a more severe problems. Some residents with gas lines running but no power have resorted to leaving their stove tops on at night for heat, adn the city has handed out 25,000 blankets who insist on staying in powerless homes, many for fear of looters.  

Fears about crime, especially at night in darkened neighborhoods, persisted. A man wearing a Red Cross jacket was arrested on a burglary charge Saturday in the city when officers saw him checking the front doors of unoccupied houses.

“It is critical for us to get power back on as quickly as possible,” said US President Barack Obama on Saturday at a briefing with officials from the homeland security department and federal emergency management administration, as well as state and local governments.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo announced that five mobile petrol stations would be set up in the New York City metropolitan area, providing people with up to 10 gallons of free petrol. Governoer Chris Christie of New Jersey is offering free gasoline on alternating days based on car owners’ license plate numbers. 

Cuomo also said that eight million gallons of fuel had been delivered since the New York harbour reopened, and another 28 million gallons would be delivered this weekend.

The government has moved to ease the fuel crunch by tapping strategic reserves and buying millions of gallons of gasoline and diesel to be trucked to storm-damaged areas. 

Mile-long lines 

Some New Yorkers even resorted to sleeping in their cars to wait for their chance to fill up their tanks as fuel stocks continued to run out, and authorities hoped to alleviate one of the country’s worst fuel chain disruptions since the energy shortage of the 1970s.

Gasoline rationing has tested the patience of drivers; fist fights have broken out in the mile-long lines of cars, and the National Guard has been called in to prevent looting.

In Staten Island, queues several miles long could be seen with some people having spent up to 28 hours waiting to fill cans and other containers, despite dropping temperatures.

“I’m over 28 hours out here,” said Angel Perez. “Hopefully they’ve got gas when we get there because if not I’m going to be very upset.”

Although electricity has been restored to most of NY, many areas remain without power five days after Sandy [Getty Images]

Meanwhile, power restorations relit parts of the skyline in lower Manhattan for the first time in nearly a week.

Con Edison, the electric utility, said it had restored power to 70 per cent of the 916,000 customers in the New York City area who had been cut off.

Pumping water out of flooded areas is another priority for relief teams.

Cuomo said that most of the flood waters that had swamped the site of the World Trade Centre memorial and museum have been pumped out.

The New York City subway system is now operating along 80 per cent of its network, and more will come back on line through the weekend, Cuomo said. 

On Friday, the mayor cancelled the marathon scheduled for Sunday in which more than 40,000 people had been expected to take part. 

With less than 48 hours until voting begins, Obama says he has made handling the response to Sandy his top priority and has ordered government agencies to find solutions for the millions impacted by the super storm. At the same time, the president has returned to the campaign trail, to the criticism of some conservatives, and his reponse to the storm and work with Governor Christie have prompted a positive response from voters.

“There’s nothing more important than getting this right … We don’t have the patience for bureaucracy. We don’t have the patience for red tape,” Obama said.

While the natural disaster has afforded the president an opportunity to rise above the fray of campaigning, it has also raised the stakes for him to show his administration can respond quickly and effectively in a crisis.

Source: Al Jazeera, News Agencies

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