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With East Coast still reeling, a new storm approaches

November 05, 2012|By Michael Muskal and Cindy Carcamo

NEW YORK -- As some schools reopened Monday in the metropolitan New York area and an overtaxed transportation system continued to creak toward recovery, a brewing nor’easter is expected to churn more misery and complicate cleanup efforts from last week’s super storm Sandy.

Just a week ago, Sandy rushed ashore in New Jersey, combined with two other storm systems and cut a band of destruction from Maine to the Midwest. At least 110 deaths have been reported, most in New York and New Jersey.

Even after a week of cleanup efforts, major problems remained on Monday.

FULL COVERAGE: East Coast hit by deadly storm

At least 20,000 people just in New York City alone need some form of temporary housing, officials said, and that number is expected to grow when Long Island and New Jersey figures are computed.

More than 1.3 million customers are still without power in seven states, according to Monday’s estimate by the U.S. Department of Energy. Of that number, about 780,000 customers were without electricity in New Jersey. New York state had about 488,00 without power -- most of whom lived on Long Island. At the storm's peak, more than 8.5 million lost power. 

Gasoline remained a problem and officials estimated that about 27% of all gasoline stations in the region were closed -- an improvement from over the weekend, when 36% were shut. But long lines continued into the Monday morning commute.

Last week, federal and state officials lifted restrictions, including some environmental controls, to allow more fuel into the region on tankers and truck. But the distribution system to the pump remained compromised because of a lack of electricity. Officials led by New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said it could take a week to straighten out the distribution disruptions.

Officials  estimated that 90% of the city's 1,700 schools had reopened, though some will be closed for a few more days because they are being used as shelters or still lack power. In New Jersey, about 300 school districts -- just more than half of the state's  589 -- remained closed.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg took the subway to work Monday, hoping to lead New York back into a sense of normality. But the morning commute remained difficult enough to challenge even the most hardened strap-hanger. Long waits, crowded trains and short-tempered commuters were the new normal — at least for a while.

Most subway lines in New York had returned to some service, but the number of operating trains was still on the low side. Water had receded, but some tunnels remained flooded and other parts of the system were challenged by the corrosive seawater that poured in during the record storm surge.

Suburban rail lines on Long Island also ran slowly and PATH trains, uniting New York to New Jersey, were still down. Flooding in the tunnels from New Jersey to Manhattan caused long delays for trains heading to Penn Station.

Restoring power and finding shelter for the thousands of displaced residents will dominate aid efforts as another storm is due to hit by midweek.

The National Weather Service is predicting a significant coastal storm to develop and bring rain, snow, and more flooding to areas already battered by Sandy. 

“An area of low pressure will develop off the coast of Georgia late Tuesday and is forecast to strengthen as it moves along the Carolina coast on Wednesday,” the weather service said. “The low will continue to strengthen into Thursday as it moves off the New Jersey coast. Potential impacts include wind gusts up to 50 mph, minor to moderate coastal flooding, heavy rain along coastal areas and wet snow across interior sections.”

In normal times, the threat of coastal flooding would be a hindrance but not cause for major alarm beyond those communities on the water. But Sandy, with its record flooding, has compromised natural barriers and forced down  defenses. High winds and snow could undo some of the repair work to power lines, again plunging areas into darkness.

In Sea Gate, a 6,000-person community at the tip of Brooklyn, a crumpled sea wall has left residents more vulnerable. Over the weekend, Michael Szajngarten stopped picking up the pieces of his shattered home for a moment to look through a giant hole that Sandy had ripped from his living room wall.

“I hear we’ll get snow soon,” he said, looking toward his now-unobstructed ocean view. “I just feel like it’s insult to injury.”

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