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Emergency rescue and recovery underway in Sandy disaster areas

October 30, 2012|By Michael Muskal and Joe Tanfani

The eastern portion of the nation turned to emergency rescue, recovery and resupply Tuesday even as meteorologists warned that the danger from super storm Sandy will continue as the massive system works its way through the country.

Sandy churned about 120 miles east of Pittsburgh and was moving toward the Great Lakes and Canada, carrying winds of 45 mph and pelting rain or snow across an area stretching from Lake Michigan to Maine.

At least 38 deaths were reported by the Associated Press. More than 8 million people remained without electricity.

Manhattan remained paralyzed with hundreds of thousands without power and its subway system shut, portions flooded. About 80 homes were destroyed by fire in the Breezy Point neighborhood of Queens. The Jersey Shore has suffered "incalculable" losses, Gov. Chris Christie said, with aerial photos showing widespread flooding, sand and water inundating street after street of homes.

Snow and blizzard conditions pummeled West Virginia on Tuesday, knocking out power and closing roads.

“I don’t want anyone to think the event is anywhere near over,” National Hurricane Center director Rick Knabb said Tuesday afternoon. He echoed a warning also delivered by President Obama during a trip to the Washington headquarters of the Red Cross. “This storm is not yet over,” Obama said.

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Obama will visit hard-hit New Jersey on Wednesday, the White House announced, where he will view storm damage and talk to residents and first-responders. He will travel in the Garden State with Christie, a GOP surrogate for presidential challenger Mitt Romney. Both Obama and Christie have insisted that dealing with the storm and its aftermath trumps any politics even in a presidential election year.

Obama stressed a must-do idea of dealing with the recovery.

VIDEOS: East Coast hit by deadly storm

"Do not figure out why we can't do something. I want you to figure out how we do something,” Obama said. “I want you to cut through red tape; I want you to cut through the bureaucracy. There is no excuse for inaction at this point. I want every agency moving forward to make sure we are getting the resources where they are needed as quickly as possible."

During the telephone briefing, FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate stressed that federal officials had moved supplies, including food, medicine and generators to help hard-hit areas such as New York and New Jersey. Obama also granted major-disaster declarations to New York and New Jersey without a full federal assessment, clearing the way for quick grants to individuals hit hardest by the storm, Fugate said.

  MAP: Hurricane Sandy barrels in

Rescues have taken place through the Northeast. But New Jersey, first hit when Sandy made landfall, was the scene of dramatic rescues as crews in boats pulled people out of two flooded towns: Moonachie, near the Hackensack River, and nearby Little Ferry, N.J.

More than 800 people were stranded in Moonachie after the surge sent water over a berm in the town of 2,700 about 10 miles northwest of Manhattan. The town was under five feet of water in just 45 minutes and some residents clung to rooftops, officials said.

At least one body was recovered in the city of Hackensack, upstream from the main flood area,  officials said.

Houses in Little Ferry were swamped when the storm drove four feet of water onto the streets.

“We are in the midst of urban search and rescue. Our teams are moving as fast as they can,” Christie said during a televised news conference. “The devastation on the Jersey Shore is some of the worst we've ever seen. The cost of the storm is incalculable at this point.”

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Christie then left for a helicopter tour of the region.

The barrier islands in the southern portion of New Jersey were cut off, said Christie, citing beach erosion, flooded and sand-crusted houses and heavily damaged amusement park rides.

The worst of the storm seemed to spare Atlantic City, N.J., the aging resort and home of the state's gambling industry. At the height of Sandy, much of the city was underwater. But by Tuesday morning, the waters had receded and most of the streets were clear. Houses showed missing shingles or blown-down rain gutters, but there was little evidence of widespread structural damage. Some of the city even had power.

The 12 hotel casinos remained closed, but even the city's Boardwalk mostly was unscathed, except for one section at the north end that was already supposed to be demolished.

The cost of Sandy's damage could exceed $20 billion in repairs and perhaps another $30 billion in lost business over the days that much of metropolitan New York was an isolated ghost town, according to early estimates

Lower Manhattan, which includes Wall Street, was among the hardest-hit areas after 14-foot surges of seawater rolled through the empty streets, setting a record. Wall Street, closed for two days, was expected to reopen for trading on Wednesday.

More than 10 deaths were reported in New York City and seven more in the rest of the state. Five dead were reported in Pennsylvania and four in New Jersey.

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