NEW YORK (Reuters) - New Yorkers took to the streets on Sunday to help in the recovery from Superstorm Sandy, volunteering to clean up devastated areas and using an annual Veterans Day parade to collect donations for victims struggling without homes or power.
Police raised the storm’s death toll in New York City to 43, adding the death of a 77-year-old retired custodian who was found last week at the bottom of the steps of his apartment building in Rockaway, Queens, paralyzed and with head injuries. He died at a hospital on Saturday, they said.
The Rockaways peninsula in the city’s Queens borough was one of the hardest hit by the storm, one of the region’s worst natural disasters in history, which toppled houses, uprooted trees and left hundreds of thousands of people without power.
Thousands remained in temporary shelters.
In what was likely to be a great relief to hundreds of thousands of commuters struggling to get to jobs without mass transit, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo and New Jersey Governor Chris Christie announced that some PATH trains that connect New York and New Jersey would resume service on Monday morning.
However, service at the Hoboken, Exchange Place and World Trade Center stations was still suspended due to severe flooding and will likely remain so for several weeks, they said.
Officials also announced the limited reopening of the Governor Hugh L. Carey Tunnel, formerly known as the Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel, for rush-hour bus service Monday morning.
The tunnel, which connects Brooklyn with downtown Manhattan, flooded with an estimated 43 million gallons of water in each of its two tubes that damaged electrical, lighting, communications, surveillance and ventilation systems, authorities said.
Organizers of the Veterans Day parade, New York City’s first post-Sandy major event since the marathon was canceled last weekend, asked spectators lining the parade route to bring coats to be donated to storm victims.
Some 600,000 people were expected to watch, organizers said.
Organizers were hoping to collect 50,000 coats by week’s end, part of an annual drive that started two weeks early to help Sandy victims, said Gary Bagley, executive director of New York Cares.
“What’s wonderful is that veterans came to us and felt in the spirit of service, that is so prevalent among folks in the armed forces, they wanted to make sure the veterans were not only being honored today but also doing their bit to help,” he said.
“To have the first event following Hurricane Sandy to be about those who have served the public I think could not be more fitting,” he added.
Power outages continued to plague the region, fraying tempers among people living without lights, heat or hot water.
The U.S. Department of Energy said there were 166,499 customers without power in New York, New Jersey and West Virginia following Sandy and the recent Nor’easter storm.
Total customer outages from Sandy and the Nor’easter peaked at more than 8.6 million after the hurricane came ashore on the New Jersey coast on October 29.
On Long Island, to the east of New York City, some 62,000 people remained without power, according to the Long Island Power Authority. It said it restored power to 38,000 customers on Saturday.
LIPA said 55,000 homes could not have power restored, however, until homeowners have equipment repaired and inspected.
Electric utilities have drawn withering criticism for their failure to quickly restore power throughout the region. Speaking on CNN, U.S. Representative Peter King, who represents the area, called the situation “a disgrace.”
“The LIPA has failed miserably. They are not doing a good job,” he said. “It really has reached crisis proportions.”
Sandy smashed into the East Coast on October 29, killing at least 121 people and causing an estimated $50 billion in damages and economic losses.
Recovery workers, from volunteers to firefighters, National Park Service workers and thousands of National Guard members, helped clean up in Queens and the city’s Staten Island borough, also badly damaged, clearing mounds of garbage, sand and debris.
Medical teams were going door to door to check on residents on high-rise buildings without power.
A bit of relief came in the form of warmer temperatures.
Still, residents said they were exhausted. Priscilla Perez, 30, was climbing up 11 flights of stairs in the dark, carrying clothes, jugs of water supplies and her one year-old daughter to an apartment at the Bay Towers in Rockaway Park.
Helping carry the load was her 10-year-old son, Elijah, who she said is struggling with the impact of the storm.
“He doesn’t want to eat. He’s never been through anything like this,” she said. “I tell him when we go to get food, ‘Take a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, take a hot dog,’ but he says no.”
Elsewhere in Queens, small cranes scooped up mounds of sand washed ashore by the storm, and firefighters used hoses to power-wash streets.
“We’re taking it one day at a time,” said Jim Long, a firefighter whose home suffered water damage. “The water table is pretty high. You clean out some water and come back the next day and there’s more water.”
Sunday marked the third day of gas rationing in New York City, under a system in which cars with odd- and even-numbered license plates can fill up only on alternate days.
President Barack Obama is to visit hard-hit areas of New York City on Thursday.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg said in a radio address that the city has distributed almost two million meals, half a million liters of water and more than 100,000 blankets as well as space heaters, baby supplies and flashlight batteries.
The city was distributing underwear, winter hats, toilet paper, bleach, soap, toothbrushes, toothpaste and towels.
New York’s Con Edison utility said almost 4,000 customers in New York City and suburban Westchester County remained without electrical service. It also said the restoration could cost as much as $450 million.
Thousands of customers in flood-ravaged areas of Brooklyn, Queens and Staten Island cannot get power restored until their equipment is repaired and tested, it said.
Bloomberg said the city was sending in teams of contractors and inspectors to help hasten the process.
In Staten Island, a fear of crime in the darkened neighborhoods was evident in signs hanging on many houses that read “Beware of Dog” or “This home is Remington protected.”
Sandy caused five times as many outages as the next largest storm in Con Edison’s history, which was Hurricane Irene in August 2011, the utility said.
In New Jersey, the PSE&G utility said some 3,000 customers remained without electricity but that it had restored power to 99.9 percent of the 1.7 million customers hit.
Additional reporting by Eileen Houlihan and Olivia Oran, Writing by Ellen Wulfhorst; Editing by Doina Chiacu and Christopher Wilson