Power sputters back after storm in Northeast; weariness mounts
NEW YORK — More New Yorkers awoke Saturday morning to power being restored for the first time since Superstorm Sandy pummeled the region, and those whose lights were back on celebrated it, but patience was wearing thin among those in the region who had been without power for most of the week.
From storm-scarred New Jersey to parts of Connecticut, a widespread lack of gasoline frustrated people who were just trying to get to work or pick up a load of groceries. Gas was to be rationed starting at noon Saturday in northern New Jersey, where drivers will be allowed to buy it only every other day, the governor declared.
The ongoing recovery also forced the cancellation of Sunday's New York City Marathon. Mayor Michael Bloomberg reversed himself Friday and yielded to mounting criticism that this was no time to run the race, which starts on hard-hit Staten Island and wends through all five of the city's boroughs.
Bloomberg, who as late as Friday afternoon insisted the world's largest marathon should go on as scheduled Sunday, changed course shortly afterward amid intensifying opposition from the city comptroller, the Manhattan borough president and sanitation workers unhappy they had volunteered to help storm victims but were assigned to the race instead. The mayor said he would not want "a cloud to hang over the race or its participants."
Many runners understood the rationale behind the decision. The death toll in the city stood at 41 and thousands of people were shivering without electricity, making many New Yorkers recoil at the idea of police officers protecting a foot race and evicting storm victims from hotels to make way for runners.
But the suddenness of it all forced runners to deal with an unexpected twist: what to do with no race.
Well over half of the 40,000 athletes were from out of town. Their entry fees were paid. Their airline tickets were purchased. Their friends and family had hotel rooms. And all week the race was a go, even after Sandy came ashore Monday.
"I understand why it cannot be held under the current circumstances," Meb Keflezighi, the 2009 men's champion and 2004 Olympic silver medalist, said in a statement. "Any inconveniences the cancellation causes me or the thousands of runners who trained and traveled for this race pales in comparison to the challenges faced by people in NYC and its vicinity."
ING, the financial company that is the title sponsor of the marathon, said it supported the decision to cancel. The firm's charitable giving arm has made a $500,000 contribution to help with relief and recovery efforts and is matching employee donations. Sponsor Poland Spring said it would donate the bottled water earmarked for the marathon to relief agencies, more than 200,000 bottles.
"When you have a significant amount of people voicing real pain and unhappiness over its running, you have to hear that. You have to take that into consideration," said Howard Wolfson, deputy mayor for government affairs and communications.
"Something that is such a celebration of the best of New York can't become divisive," he said. "That is not good for the city now as we try to complete our recovery effort, and it is not good for the marathon in the long run."
Each day has brought signs of recovery in the region. Fewer than 1 million customers in New York were without power Saturday, the lowest the number has been since the storm hit.
Aida Padilla, 75, was thrilled that the power at her large housing authority complex in New York City's Chelsea section had returned late Friday.
"Thank God," said Padilla, 75. "I screamed and I put the lights on. Everybody was screaming. It was better than New Year's."
Asked about whether she had heat, she replied, "hot and cold water and heat! Thank God, Jesus!"
NYU Langone Medical Center, one of two New York hospitals that had to evacuate patients at the height of the storm, said it would reopen Monday, though some doctors would see patients at alternate sites.
Seven backup generators at the hospital failed during the storm surge on Monday night, forcing the evacuation of 300 patients.
At Bellevue Hospital Center, some 700 patients had to be evacuated after the power failed. An official there said Thursday the hospital could be out of commission at least two more weeks.
In New Jersey, Gov. Chris Christie announced that he would make public a list of when utility companies intend to restore power to each community. Even if they end up working faster or slower, he said, residents will have a sense of when they will have power restored so they can plan their lives a bit better.
Commuter rail operator NJ Transit said it would have more service restored in time for the workweek to start Monday, most of Atlantic City's casinos reopened, and many school districts decided to hold classes next Thursday and Friday, days previously reserved for the New Jersey Education Association's annual conference, which has been canceled because of the storm.