More Signs Of Recovery In Northeast, Post-Sandy

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

“After two weeks of the recovery phase, we’ve achieved a new normal for life in post-Hurricane Sandy New Jersey,” Gov. Chris Christie said of his state.

Nearly everyone in the state has power back, nearly all schools are reopening, and gasoline rationing can end in the state, he said.

But, as Christie and other officials in the stricken region emphasize, signs of struggle remain.

People are clearing debris from their homes, standing watch among ruins to ward off looters, and putting on layers of clothing to battle the cold.

Some have been crying in each other’s arms as they face the devastation.

Gas rationing continues in New York City and Long Island’s Nassau and Suffolk counties.

Christie said it will take time to restore necessary services for those who live on New Jersey’s barrier islands, because so much infrastructure was destroyed.

“Our resilience has always been our biggest strength,” Christie said. He said he has seen a lot of pain and tears across the state. But, he added, those suffering losses also say, “We’re rebuilding. We’re coming back.”

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

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.

Not long after the superstorm, more than 8.6 million people were without power, the U.S. Department of Energy said. As of Sunday morning, that was down to about 160,000 customers.

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 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 Monday it has restored service to more than 97% of customers whose homes and business can safely receive power.

“LIPA continues the massive effort to restore electricity to all customers and especially those customers in hard hit, flooded communities,” the company said on its website. “We will continue to work 24 hours a day, seven days a week, with over 10,000 linemen and tree trim crews dedicated to getting power restored. This is the single largest utility workforce ever assembled on Long Island.”

Utility company Con Edison reported restorations to many in New York.

“This morning, the last customers in Westchester affected by Hurricane Sandy, whose equipment could be restored, were getting their electricity back. Overnight, the last customers in New York City hit by Sandy’s devastation — whose equipment could be restored — had their power turned on.

“The 1 million restorations do not include approximately 16,300 customers in flood-ravaged areas of Brooklyn, Queens and Staten Island. Those customers cannot get electrical service until their own internal equipment is repaired, tested and certified by an electrician as ready for service,” the company said on its website.

U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano visited New York City on Sunday. Though she praised the response to the storm, she 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.

More than 369,000 people in New Jersey, New York, and Connecticut have registered for assistance from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which will total more than $455 million, FEMA 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 after Sandy.

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