Storm-ravaged residents of New York and New Jersey began urgent recovery efforts Tuesday after a nighttime pummeling from Hurricane Sandy, which caused widespread flooding, raging fires and broad power outages and left at least 40 people dead from Connecticut to North Carolina.
The devastating storm’s torrential rains and howling winds left behind floodwaters from Lower Manhattan to Atlantic City, N.J., while firefighters continued to battle a still-smoldering fire that consumed scores of homes in a waterfront neighborhood in Queens.
Mighty New York City was largely paralyzed, its pivotal subway system flooded and numerous bridges and tunnels shut down. Wall Street’s financial markets were shuttered for a second day — the longest weather-related closure in 124 years — while authorities warned that it would be days, if not weeks, before the city returned to normal.
“The damage we suffered across the city is clearly extensive, and it will not be repaired overnight,” Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg (I) said in a morning news conference. He said all New York area airports were still shut down Tuesday and that public transportation in the city “remains closed until further notice.” About 750,000 New Yorkers are without power, the mayor said.
From a raised catwalk in a pier-side Brooklyn warehouse, Dave Shamoun, 58, the owner of a marine industry supplier, surveyed the soggy wreckage standing in about 5 ½ feet of water in his 15,000-square-foot space. A pair of forklifts were inoperable, their electrical innards damaged by saltwater. A box of electrical switches for the Suez Canal had floated halfway across the warehouse.
“This is New York’s Katrina,” Shamoun said, referring to the hurricane that ravaged New Orleans in 2005.
“The level of devastation at the Jersey Shore is unthinkable,” New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) told reporters earlier Tuesday. He said he was about to take a helicopter tour to assess the damage but “there is no place for me to land on the barrier islands.” He said 2.4 million New Jersey households are without power — twice the number that lost electricity during Hurricane Irene — and he estimated that full restoration would take longer than the eight days it took after that storm last year.
“It is beyond anything I thought I’d ever see,” Christie said of the damage to his state. “Terrible.... No question in my mind, the devastation that happened to New Jersey is beyond what happened to anyone else” from Sandy.
President Obama signed federal emergency declarations for 10 states and the District of Columbia, permitting state officials to begin making requests for federal assistance, including manpower and equipment.
The president had canceled campaign plans for Monday and Tuesday so he could remain at the White House and oversee the federal response to the storm. Obama later canceled campaign events scheduled for Wednesday in Ohio, the White House announced.
The federal government announced that its offices in Washington would reopen Wednesday but said employees would have the option to take unscheduled leave or perform unscheduled telework.
Obama held a conference call Tuesday with 13 state governors, seven city mayors and top administration officials to discuss response efforts, the White House said.
Later, after visiting the headquarters of the Red Cross in Washington, Obama told reporters he has instructed federal agencies to be proactive in responding to the disaster. “There’s no excuse for inaction at this point,” he said. “My message to the federal government: No bureaucracy. No red tape.”
Obama said he told the state and local officials, “We are going to do everything we can to get resources to you and make sure that any unmet need that is identified, we are responding to it as quickly as possible.” He added that if the governors and mayors are “getting no for an answer somewhere in the federal government, they can call me personally at the White House.” Obama also urged people to look out for each other, particularly the elderly, and to donate to the Red Cross.
“During the darkness of the storm, I think we also saw what’s brightest in America,” he said, citing images of New York nurses carrying newborns to safety, firefighters battling to save homes and lives in Queens and the Coast Guard rescuing people from a sinking ship off North Carolina.
“This is a tough time for a lot of people,” Obama said. “But America is tougher. And we’re tougher because we pull together. We leave nobody behind. We make sure that we respond as a nation.”
GOP challenger Mitt Romney also shelved many of his campaign plans, but held a “storm relief” event in Dayton, Ohio, that featured the trappings of a political “victory rally.” The campaign also announced that Romney would formally resume full campaigning on Wednesday in Florida.