Sal Conte cleans up the damage from the storm surge of Hurricane Sandy in… (Justin Lane / EPA )
LITTLE EGG HARBOR, N.J. -- Voters in the New York metropolitan area went to the polls on Tuesday, wary about an upcoming storm and many still grappling with the damage caused by Sandy just over a week ago.
The initial turnout was high in storm-hit areas where many people arrived at makeshift polling sites like the recreational vehicle parked in Little Egg Harbor. Ruth Ann Murray, 75, was staying in a shelter there after her home in Manahawkin was flooded--and has never missed an election.
“I think it's wonderful that we can still vote,” Murray said after she was lowered from the RV on a wheelchair ramp, adding that she felt voting was her duty. “This is our country and we have to make sure it's being run as we want it to be.”
FULL COVERAGE: East Coast hit by deadly storm
Murray, a retired registered nurse, and her husband managed to save their cars by moving them to higher ground. They have also found a house to rent in a senior citizen complex and were hoping to furnish it after voting. “Just some mattresses and recliners, the bare essentials,” Murray said.
“This is not what you want to do in your golden years,” she said. Still, “we're some of the lucky ones,” she said.
Sandy, which killed more than 100 people in 10 states, hit the metropolitan New York region especially hard. The storm made landfall on Oct. 29, and as of Tuesday morning, more than 973,000 people were still without electricity, according to Department of Energy statistics. More than 7 million customers have had their power restored.
INTERACTIVE: Before and after Sandy
In a morning conference call, top federal disaster officials, including President Obama, discussed the housing needs in the region where at least 34,000 people have sought temporary housing help and more are expected as the cleanup continues.
So far, 263,000 individuals have applied to the Federal Emergency Management Agency which has approved more than $240 million in all types of direct assistance, the White House announced. Additional aid to remove debris has been awarded for regions in Connecticut, New Jersey and New York as well.
There are also significant worries about another storm forecast to hit coastal areas already slammed by Sandy. Surges of several feet are expected along coastal regions whose defenses like sand dunes and sea walls have been stripped away. High winds in the 50- to 60-mph range and snow could damage recently repaired power lines.
“The president reiterated his direction to continue to provide every available resource to support state and local and partners, including efforts to confront fuel challenges facing communities and ongoing power restoration efforts, as well as any support that can be provided ahead of the potential severe weather,” the White House said.
The next storm, a nor’easter, is expected to start developing late Tuesday along the southeast coast of the United States, according to the National Weather Service. “As it moves northward, it is expected to bring heavy rain, wet snow and gusty winds to parts of the northeast.”
But the storm could still move a bit further offshore, which would lessen its impact, the weather service said.
Brick Township in New Jersey was the first town to issue a mandatory evacuation order ahead of the forthcoming storm. The town asked those living in low-lying areas along its waterfront to leave for shelters and higher ground while other parts of the town “were strongly encouraged to seek shelter from the storm. About 30% of the town is still without electricity from Sandy.
New York is considering some type of comparable action, according to Gov. Andrew Cuomo.
“The really damaged communities have a lower threshold to sustain damage from this storm and should have a lower threshold for evacuation,” Cuomo told reporters on Monday. “Take evacuation orders seriously, please, please, please.”
New York City schools were closed because of election day as were some businesses, giving the region’s pressed transportation system a small respite. Tuesday’s voting pushed housing and energy issues temporarily aside, even though New York and New Jersey are expected to vote solidly Democrat on national offices.
More than 100 polling places in New York state have been changed, including about 60 in the city. Most were in Brooklyn and Queens. In two areas, the Rockaways and the Throgs Neck section of the Bronx, polling places were set up in tents powered by generators.
In addition, city officials arranged for shuttle buses to bring voters from low-lying, damaged areas in the Rockaways, Coney Island and Staten Island.
In New York and New Jersey, voters will be allowed to use a provisional ballot at any polling place they can reach.