Severe storm brings more chaos to US

 

A winter storm brought gusting winds, rain, snow and the threat of flooding to America's north-east coast, menacing travellers with icy roads, snarling a railway line - and knocking out power to thousands who only recently got it back after Superstorm Sandy.

Forecasters said the latest storm was weaker than first thought, but it still caused further damage to an already-weakened infrastructure of the country's most densely-populated region.

Rain and wet snow continued to fall in New York City early today after beginning about midday yesterday.

Mark Fendrick, of Staten Island, tweeted: "My son had just got his power back 2 days ago now along comes this nor'easter and it's out again."

Exactly as authorities feared, the nor'easter brought down tree limbs and electrical wires, and utilities in New York and New Jersey reported that nearly 60,000 customers who lost power because of Sandy lost it all over again as a result of the nor'easter.

"I am waiting for the locusts and pestilence next," New Jersey governor Chris Christie said. Public works crew with heavy machinery worked to build up dunes to protect the battered shoreline.

More than half a million homes and businesses remained without power as temperatures hit freezing at night, and finding tens of thousands of people emergency housing - in some cases, for the long term - was the greatest challenge.

The utility Con Ed, which serves New York City, said that by early evening yesterday, the nor'easter cut power to at least 11,000 customers, some of whom had just regained it. Tens of thousands more were expected to lose power overnight.

The Long Island Power Authority said by evening that the number of customers in the dark had risen from 150,000 to more than 198,000.

New York mayor Michael Bloomberg ordered police to use loudspeakers to warn vulnerable residents, many of them in low-income public housing, about evacuating.

"Even though it's not anywhere near as strong as Sandy - nor strong enough, in normal times, for us to evacuate anybody - out of precaution and because of the changing physical circumstances, we are going to go to some small areas and ask those people to go to higher ground," Mr Bloomberg said.

But many were deciding to stay, worried about their empty homes being looted. Others decided the situation could not get much worse.

"We're petrified," said James Alexander, of the hard-hit Rockaways section of New York City where many homes burned to the ground during Sandy. "It's like a sequel to a horror movie." Nevertheless, he said he was staying to watch over his house and his neighbours.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency put a number to the storm's homeless in New York and New Jersey, saying 95,000 people were eligible for emergency housing assistance. Just under a million people were still without power in the region.

Storm surges along the coasts of New Jersey and New York were expected to reach perhaps 3ft, only half to a third of what the hurricane-driven Sandy caused last week. But Sandy destroyed some protective dunes, especially in New Jersey, making even a weaker surge dangerous.

High winds, which could reach 65mph, could stall power restoration efforts or cause further outages.

Major airlines cancelled flights in and out of the New York City area ahead of the storm. Last week Sandy led to more than 20,000 flight cancellations.

New York City was closing all parks, playgrounds and beaches and ordering all construction sites to be secured. On Tuesday evening Mr Bloomberg ordered three nursing homes and an adult care centre evacuated from Queens' vulnerable Rockaway Peninsula.

New York police commissioner Raymond Kelly said it was unwise to stay put. "I think your life is more important than property," he said.

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