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U.S. Air Force video by Master Sgt. Mark C. Olsen/Released
Aviators of the 1-150th Assault Helicopter Battalion, New Jersey National Guard, look for displaced residents along the New Jersey coastline Oct. 30, in the aftermath of Sandy.
Mass transit slowly began running, two major airports reopened and trading resumed on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange Wednesday, while across the river in New Jersey, National Guardsmen rushed to rescue flood victims and fires still raged two days after Sandy slammed the tri-state.
For the first time since the storm battered the Northeast, killing more than 40 people in our area and doing billions of dollars in damage, sunshine washed over the nation's largest city — a striking sight after days of gray skies, rain and wind.
"We are on our way back to normal," Mayor Bloomberg declared. "We are on the road to recovery. Each day you're going to see more and more things."
Gov. Andrew Cuomo declared a transportation emergency and authorized the MTA to waive fares on railways, subways and buses Thursday and Friday, he announced Wednesday night.
He said limited Metro-North and LIRR service resumed Wednesday, and some city subways would be up on Thursday, supplemented by buses. The subway service was not likely to be widespread; he said there would still be no subways below 34th Street in Manhattan, an area still largely without power.
Traffic was heavy as commuters began to try to return to work Wednesday, and later in the day Bloomberg announced that no cars with less than three people could enter Manhattan on East River bridges between 6 a.m. and midnight as a way to reduce congestion.
"The streets just cannot handle the number of cars that have tried to come in," he said.
In some neighborhoods Wednesday, lines at bus stops wrapped around the block and packed buses bypassed the crowds. Many people simply walked over the bridges into Manhattan; large crowds of pedestrians were seen on the bridges in the morning. The city said schools would be closed the rest of the week, but teachers would return on Friday.
It was clear that restoring the region to its ordinarily frenetic pace could take days — and that rebuilding the hardest-hit communities and the transportation networks that link them together could take considerably longer.
At the stock exchange, running on generator power, Bloomberg gave a thumbs-up and rang the opening bell to whoops from traders on the floor. Trading resumed after the first two-day weather shutdown since the Blizzard of 1888.
Kennedy and Newark Liberty airports reopened with limited service just after 7 a.m. LaGuardia Airport, which suffered far worse damage and where water covered parts of runways, remained closed but officials planned to reopen the airport at 7 a.m. Thursday.
The National Weather Service said Wednesday that the strongest wind gusts reported during Sandy were 90 mph, recorded at Islip on Long Island and on Robbins Reef, just off Staten Island and Bayonne, N.J.
The scale of the challenge could be seen in Staten Island, where the NYPD aviation unit rescued people from rooftops Tuesday, and on Wednesday authorities were searching for two boys, 2 and 4, whose mother said they were swept away by rising waters. Rescue workers continued recovering bodies there, and the death toll was expected to rise as that grim task went on.
National Guard troops arrived in Hoboken overnight Tuesday to help evacuate thousands still stuck in their homes. Live wires dangled in floodwaters that Mayor Dawn Zimmer said were rapidly mixing with sewage.
And new problems arose when 300,000 gallons of diesel fuel leaked in Arthur Kill between Staten Island and New Jersey. Further down the coast, firefighters were unable to reach blazes rekindled by natural gas leaks in the heavily hit shore town of Mantoloking.
Gov. Chris Christie signed an executive order Wednesday postponing Halloween "to minimize additional risks to lives and the public safety." The governor is advising local officials to encourage communities to delay celebrations until Monday.
President Barack Obama arrived in Atlantic City, N.J., to inspect conditions in the area that was directly in the storm's path Monday night. After surveying the damage in a helicopter tour, Obama and Christie stopped at the Brigantine Beach Community Center, which is serving as an evacuation shelter.
"The entire country has been watching what's been happening," Obama said. "Everybody knows how hard Jersey has been hit."
Christie stressed how important it was to have the president visit. "He means what he says," the governor said. Those seeking federal disaster assistance are urged to start here.
Outages in Newark and Jersey City left traffic signals dark, resulting in fender-benders at intersections where police were not directing traffic. At one Jersey City supermarket, there were long lines to get bread and use an electrical outlet to charge cellphones.
Amid the despair, talk of recovery was already beginning.
"It's heartbreaking after being here 37 years," Barry Prezioso of Point Pleasant, N.J., said as he returned to his house in the beachfront community to survey the damage. "You see your home demolished like this, it's tough. But nobody got hurt and the upstairs is still livable, so we can still live upstairs and clean this out. I'm sure there's people that had worse. I feel kind of lucky."
In New York City, Con Edison said it could also be the weekend before power is restored to Manhattan and Brooklyn, perhaps longer for outer boroughs and suburbs. There have been more than 20 people arrested for looting in some of the hardest hit areas of the city.
The recovery and rebuilding will take far longer than restoring services.
In Queens, at least 80 homes were destroyed by fire in the Breezy Point section of the Rockaway peninsula. Bloomberg said 23 serious fires erupted throughout the city overnight Monday.
In Belmar, N.J., when Christie stopped during a tour of the devastation, one woman wept, and 42-year-old Walter Patrickis told him, "Governor, I lost everything."
Christie, who called the shore damage "unthinkable," said a full recovery would take months, at least, and it would probably be a week or more before power is restored to everyone who lost it.
"Now we've got a big task ahead of us that we have to do together. This is the kind of thing New Jerseyans are built for," he said.
In Connecticut, some residents of Fairfield returned home in kayaks and canoes to inspect widespread damage left by retreating floodwaters that kept other homeowners at bay.
"The uncertainty is the worst," said Jessica Levitt, who was told it could be a week before she can enter her house. "Even if we had damage, you just want to be able to do something. We can't even get started."
The storm caused irreparable damage to homes in East Haven, Milford and other shore towns. Still, many were grateful the storm did not deliver a bigger blow, considering the havoc wrought in New York City and New Jersey.
"I feel like we are blessed," said Bertha Weismann, whose garage was flooded in Bridgeport. "It could have been worse."