By Timothy Witcher
NEW YORK – Tens of thousands of people whose homes were destroyed or damaged by superstorm Sandy faced a new crisis in New York on Sunday as temperatures plunged, raising the specter of people freezing to death.
New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg estimated that 30,000-40,000 homes in the city alone had been left unusable by the Oct. 29 storm as the cold intensifies.
Sandy pummeled 15 U.S. states with fierce winds and a huge tidal surge that killed at least 109 people in the United States and Canada and left a damage bill running to tens of billions of dollars.
Almost 2 million homes are still without power, and a new storm predicted to hit on Wednesday is bringing more heavy rain and winds.
“It is starting to get cold, people are in homes that are uninhabitable,” New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo said in a press conference. “We are going to have tens of thousands of people who need housing solutions right away.”
“This is going to be a massive, massive housing problem,” the governor said.
Bloomberg compared the crisis to New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina hit in 2005. “I don’t know that anybody has ever taken this number of people and found housing overnight,” the under-pressure New York mayor said.
Tens of thousands fled New Orleans because of the storm. “In this case people are staying in New York City and it’s a challenge for us,” Bloomberg said.
More than 200,000 meals are being handed out each day to the elderly and others in need in New York. The city is again laying on special buses and urging homeless people to go to emergency evacuation centers that remain open.
Poorer parts of the city, including the Rockaway and Staten Island districts were worst hit by the storm, and Bloomberg was the target of expletive-laden rants by inhabitants when he went there Saturday. Bloomberg called off Sunday’s New York marathon because of protests about the diversion of resources with so many people suffering. Many of the 47,000 contestants descended on Central Park on Sunday to run part of the course while others handed out aid and money to storm victims.
The crisis remains acute in New Jersey, where at least 1 million people were still without electricity on Sunday.
New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, who introduced fuel rationing on Saturday, said that 280 police officers from other states would help with security in his state starting Monday. Huge lines of cars and people on foot snaked back from gas stations across the northern half of New Jersey. Drivers with license plates ending in an even number can only fill up on even-numbered dates. Those whose plates end in odd numbers had to wait for odd-numbered dates.
About 730,000 people in New York state still do not have electricity, including 145,000 in New York City, Cuomo said.
Nassau County, just east of the city and one of the wealthiest parts of the United States, is now worst hit in the state with 266,000 people still in the dark.
The U.S. Energy Department said Saturday that 2.5 million customers remain without power across seven states. Each “customer” however could be a home with several people living inside.
Cuomo said that some people may have to wait two weeks to get power back, and reaffirmed a vow to make sure utility companies are held “accountable.” Cuomo and Bloomberg appealed for patience as tempers flared among anxious drivers lined up for hours at gas stations, and insisted that deliveries are improving.
At Coney Island people waited for up to six hours to get some of the free gasoline that federal authorities have sent to New York to help alleviate shortages. Temperatures in New York hovered just above freezing on Saturday night.
“I have to feed the kids, I have to clean up a terrible mess, I have to get ready for work tomorrow, but I have a generator so I have to stay in the queue,” local resident Karen Braithwaite said.
Many of the few gasoline stations that are open in New York are limiting drivers to $30 of fuel at a time, barely a third of a tank for many American cars.
New York subways are getting back to normal and nearly all schools are set to reopen on Monday.