Hurricane Sandy: New York Marathon cancelled as city recovers

 

Hours after he said the New York City Marathon would inspire the city to move on after Superstorm Sandy, Mayor Michael Bloomberg did a U-turn and cancelled the race amid outrage over holding a sports event while thousands of residents were without power or, in some cases, a place to live.

Six days after Sandy slammed the mid-Atlantic and the Northeast, the US death toll topped 100 in 10 states, including 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. As a hurricane, Sandy earlier left at least 69 people dead when it swept through the Caribbean.

Heading into the weekend, there were clear signs of progress: The Manhattan skyline was mostly lit last night. But the pace of recovery was torturously slow in other ways, with long lines at petrol stations that brought tempers to a boil.

Bloomberg said the Con Edison utility company hoped to resolve most Manhattan power outages by midnight Friday. The news was not as good for the city's outer boroughs and parts of New Jersey, however, where customers may not have electricity until mid-November.

The total damage in the US from superstorm Sandy could run as high as $50bn (£31 billion), according to the forecasting firm Eqecat. That would make it the second-costliest storm in US history after Hurricane Katrina. The estimate includes property damage and lost business.

Bloomberg initially defended his plan to hold the 26.2-mile New York City Marathon as scheduled, then abruptly cancelled it later in the day. Many New Yorkers complained it would be insensitive and divert city resources at a time when many are suffering.

The race had been scheduled to start tomorrow morning in Staten Island, one of the hardest-hit areas by this week's storm, and the site of half the New York fatalities.

"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 in a statement.

Thousands of out of town runners had arrived for the marathon.

At the midtown New Yorker Hotel, the lobby was filled with anguished runners, some crying and others with puffy eyes. In one corner, a group of Italian runners watched the news with blank looks. "I have no words," said Roberto Dell'Olmo, from Vercelli, Italy. Then later: "I would like that the money I give from the marathon goes to victims."

With fuel deliveries in the East disrupted by storm damage and many petrol stations lacking electricity to run their pumps, petrol became a precious commodity, especially for those who depend on their cars for their livelihoods.

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 of petrol before they reached the front of the line.

Police officers were assigned to petrol stations to maintain order. In Queens, a man was charged on Thursday with flashing a gun at another motorist who complained he was cutting in line.

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.

In New Jersey, Governor Chris Christie said Atlantic City's 12 casinos could reopen immediately after a nearly five-day shutdown. Sandy slammed into the shoreline Monday night just a few miles from Atlantic City, which was flooded and lost a section of its word-famous boardwalk but fared much better than other parts of New Jersey's coast.

The prospect of better times ahead did little to mollify residents who spent another day and night in the dark.

"It's too much. You're in your house. You're freezing," said Geraldine Giordano, 82, a lifelong resident of New York's West Village. Near her home, city employees had set up a sink where residents could get fresh water, if they needed it.

There were few takers. "Nobody wants to drink that water," Giordano said.

There was increasing worry about the elderly. Community groups have been going door-to-door on the upper floors of darkened Manhattan apartment buildings, and city workers and volunteers in hard-hit Newark, New Jersey, delivered meals to seniors and others stuck in their buildings.

"It's been mostly older folks who aren't able to get out," said Monique George of Manhattan-based Community Voices Heard. "In some cases, they hadn't talked to folks in a few days. They haven't even seen anybody because the neighbors evacuated. They're actually happy that folks are checking, happy to see another person. To not see someone for a few days, in this city, it's kind of weird."

On Thursday, police recovered the bodies of two brothers, ages 2 and 4, who were swept away after the SUV driven by their mother, Glenda Moore, stalled in Sandy's floodwaters Monday evening.

The discovery was another heartbreaking blow to Staten Island, whose residents complained has been largely forgotten. At least 19 people have been killed in Staten Island, about half the death toll for all of New York City.

Garbage piled up, a stench hung in the air and mud-caked mattresses and couches lined the borough's streets. Residents picked through their belongings, searching for anything that could be salvaged.

"We have hundreds of people in shelters," said James Molinaro, the borough's president. "Many of them, when the shelters close, have nowhere to go because their homes are destroyed. These are not homeless people. They're homeless now."

A relief fund is being created just for storm survivors on Staten Island, Molinaro and former Mayor Rudolph Giuliani said yesterday. And Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and a top Federal Emergency Management Agency official planned to tour the island.

Along the devastated Jersey Shore, residents were allowed back in their neighborhoods Thursday for the first time since Sandy slammed the coast. Some were relieved to find only minor damage, but many others were wiped out.

AP

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