WRAPUP 3-Power returns to lower Manhattan, but many waiting

Sat Nov 3, 2012 11:32am EDT

* Death toll rises to 110

* Fuel flowing again after New York Harbor reopened

* New York City subway service mostly restored

* Disaster victims, first responders under strain

By Chris Francescani and Lynnley Browning

NEW YORK, Nov 3 (Reuters) - Fuel flowed toward disaster victims on Saturday and the lower Manhattan skyline lit up for the first time since superstorm Sandy slammed into the U.S. Northeast, while people in devastated coastal areas endured more hardship.

The power restorations allowed 80 percent of the New York City subway service to resume, and 8 million gallons of fuel have been delivered since the New York Harbor reopened on Friday, Governor Andrew Cuomo said.

Another 28 million gallons would be delivered this weekend, he said, restoring supplies to a region experiencing rationing and long lines at gas stations reminiscent of the energy shortage of the 1970s.

Cuomo also announced five mobile gas station would be set up in the metropolitan area, providing people with up to 10 gallons of free gas.

Even so, the long, arduous recovery was taxing disaster victims and first responders strained by a week of emergency services, while a heating oil shortage and widespread power outages meant some homes could go cold as wintry weather sets in.

The death toll rose to at least 110 with nine more deaths reported in New Jersey on Saturday, raising the total in that state to 22. New York revised its total down by one to 40.

Sandy killed 69 in the Caribbean before turning north and hammering the U.S. northeast coast on Monday with 80 mile-per-hour (130-kph) winds and a record surge of seawater that swamped homes in New Jersey and New York, and flooded streets and subway tunnels in New York City.

New York City gave its overstretched police a break by abruptly reversing course on Friday and canceling Sunday's marathon, a beloved annual race that had become a lightning rod for critics concerned it was a diversion of resources.

"How long can the NYPD go at full throttle like this is the big question," said Gene O'Donnell, a former New York Police Department officer and professor of policing studies at John Jay College of Criminal Justice. "The longer it goes, the more they get stretched."

In a sign of security worries a hard-hit Queens neighborhood, one garage full of debris stood open with a sign next to it reading: "LOOTERS WILL BE CRUCIFIED - GOD HELP YOU."

TESTED PATIENCE

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

"Hurricanes can be the stress equivalent of cancer," said David Yusko, assistant clinical director at the Center for the Treatment and Study of Anxiety at the University of Pennsylvania.

Music stars offered a diversion from the disaster with a televised benefit concert on Friday night featuring New Jersey natives Bruce Springsteen and Jon Bon Jovi and Staten Island-born Christina Aguilera.

"We will not leave anyone behind," said Aguilera, whose native borough accounted for 22 of New York City's 40 deaths from the storm.

President Barack Obama won early praise for the federal response to Sandy, but continued television and newspaper images of upset storm victims could hurt the Democrat, who is locked in a virtual draw with Republican challenger Mitt Romney going into Tuesday's election.

Before heading to the Midwest on Saturday for a final weekend of campaigning, Obama visited Federal Emergency Management Agency headquarters in Washington for a briefing, and told officials to cut through government "red tape" to help storm-ravaged areas.

"There's nothing more important than getting this right," the president said at the beginning of a briefing with officials from FEMA, the Department of Homeland Security, and state and local governments.

POWER RESTORATION

Power utility Consolidated Edison, battling what it called the worst natural disaster in the company's 180-year history, restored electricity to Manhattan neighborhoods such as Wall Street, Chinatown and Greenwich Village in the pre-dawn hours, leaving 11,000 customers in Manhattan without service.

Con Ed said it had restored power to 70 percent of the 916,000 customers in the New York City area who were cut off.

"There's enough light and activity to get a lot of people on the street and get rid of that movie set look as if were in some kind of ghost town or horror movie," Con Ed spokesman Bob McGee told NY1 television.

In New Jersey, the utility PSE&G said 607,000 customers were still without lights after power to 1 million had been restored.

The U.S. Coast Guard reopened New York Harbor on Friday, allowing tankers in and out.

Moving to ease fuel shortages, the Obama administration directed the purchase of up to 12 million gallons (45 million liters) of unleaded fuel and 10 million gallons (38 million liters) of diesel, to be trucked to New York and New Jersey for distribution.

The government announced it would tap strategic reserves for diesel for emergency responders and waived rules that barred foreign-flagged ships from taking gasoline, diesel and other products from the Gulf of Mexico to Northeast ports.

A cold snap in the New York City area was forecast early next week with daily low temperatures expected to drop into the upper 30s Fahrenheit (2-4 degrees Celsius).

"There's no heating oil around," said Vincent Savino, the president Statewide Oil and Heating, which usually supplies some 2,000 buildings across New York City. "I don't know how much fuel we have left: maybe a day or two."

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