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Pace of storm recovery in NY, NJ leave some ‘frustrated, emotionally drained’

Posted at 8:36 AM, Nov 12, 2012
and last updated 2012-11-12 08:36:45-05

By the CNN Wire Staff

(CNN) — The outward signs of recovery across the Northeast nearly two weeks after Superstorm Sandy struck were everywhere Monday: Power restored to tens of thousands, bridges and tunnels reopened and limited train and ferry service up and running.

But there were signs, too, of struggle.

People in hard hit areas were still clearing debris from their homes, standing watch among ruins to ward off looters, and putting on layers of clothing to battle the cold.

The death toll from Sandy rose by two on Sunday to at least 113 across several states, with 43 of those fatalities in New York City, according to New York’s chief medical examiner’s office.

Authorities discovered the body of a 66-year-old man who appeared to have drowned in his home on hard-hit Staten Island, while a 77-year-old man from the battered beachside community of Far Rockaway, Queens, died of injuries he suffered when he fell down a flight of stairs.

More than 160,000 customers in the 10 states and the District of Columbia remained without power Sunday, according to the U.S. Department of Energy. The number of people affected was considerably higher, given that a single power customer could range from an apartment building to a house, the agency said.

At the height of the aftermath of the superstorm, more than 8.6 million people were without power, the Energy Department said.

In Baldwin Harbor, on New York’s Long Island, Paul Walters used a flashlight to survey the storm debris pulled from his home and those of his neighbors: Damaged mattresses, boxes of books and papers and destroyed floor lamps.

But it is the ongoing power outage that has proved most frustrating for Walters, who told CNN affiliate WCBS in New York late Sunday that he was “frustrated, emotionally drained” by the experience.

Bundled up in a heavy jacket and knit cap, Walters joined hundreds over the weekend in Baldwin Harbor to protest a Long Island Power Authority requirement that every home undergo an inspection before power was returned.

The ruling drew the ire of residents, who are battling the cold while trying to clean up their homes.

Some residents took to the streets in areas of the Nassau County community with handmade signs. Others chanted: “Help the harbor. Turn on the power.”

Under fire by residents and officials, the Long Island Power Authority day rescinded its inspection order. But it did little to curb anger among residents who believe they have been without power unnecessarily.

“It’s ridiculous,” Marilyn Cashdan told WCBS. “The governor should fire them all.”

LIPA said on its website Sunday that it expected to restore power to 99% of its customers by the end of the day Tuesday. Roughly 95,000 customers remained without electricity across three counties.

The electricity was back on in all but a few dozen homes in Staten Island, according to the utility company Con Edison, but the damage there goes well beyond the power grid.

Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano headed to the city’s southernmost borough Sunday to walk through rubble, survey relief and progress, and comfort residents for the second time this month.

“First things first. Food, shelter, clothing for people who need it, assistance with finding housing, getting life back to normal, or as normal as it can be under the circumstances,” she said, identifying housing as the No. 1 issue.

Though she praised the response to the storm so far, Napolitano recognized that much work remains to be done.

“This is going to be here for the long term. And we are here for the long term as well,” she said.

In his weekly radio address Sunday, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg detailed the city’s relief and rebuilding efforts, including the “Rapid Repairs” program, which sends teams of inspectors, electricians, carpenters and contractors building-to-building to identify repairs needed, help building owners make repairs and get them reimbursed by the federal government for repair work.

Bloomberg pledged “to keep doing everything possible to get life back to normal in our city — especially for those hit hardest by the storm.”

Residents are fatigued, still fighting to hold on to what they have left after enduring the weight of a cold, snowy nor’easter that settled over them in Sandy’s wake.

On top of power outages has come a gas shortage and rationing in New York City, based on license plate numbers.

Commuting, though, was expected to get a little bit easier for New York and New Jersey residents Monday when service resumed on the PATH rail system from the Newark Penn and Harrison stations in New Jersey to Manhattan, according to a joint press release from New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

In addition, the Port Authority and New Jersey Transit will begin operating a new ferry service from Hoboken, New Jersey, to Manhattan on Monday, the release said.

CNN’s James O’Toole, Susan Candiotti and Dominique Dodley contributed to this report

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