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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 Hurricane Sandy.
Millions of people without power or mass transit after Sandy ripped through the region were warned Tuesday it would be days before basic services could be restored in the aftermath of the epic storm that flooded coastlines, sparked devastating fires, displaced thousands and took at least 38 lives.
Those in the dark included "pretty much everyone" in Manhattan below 39th Street at one point, Con Ed said. The company cut power to about 160,000 customers in southern Brooklyn and central portions of Staten Island Tuesday night as new transmission problems cropped up. Con Ed estimated that its customers served by underground lines in Brooklyn and Manhattan would have power within four days, and those with overhead lines would likely be without it for at least a week.
"Clearly the challenges our city faces in the coming days are enormous," Mayor Bloomberg said.
The White House announced President Barack Obama would tour the devastation in New Jersey on Wednesday.
Sandy roared onto land near Atlantic City, N.J., just as night fell Monday, whipping huge, frothy waves over the streets and leaving splintered boardwalk planks in its wake. More than 30 deaths are being attributed to the storm across the tri-state area, including an off-duty NYPD officer found in his Staten Island home, a woman who died after coming into contact with wires in a flooded area and several killed by falling trees.
Two victims were found in piles of rubble near the Staten Island shoreline, where emergency responders said they had discovered homes completely flattened by a wall of water during the storm surge.
MTA Chairman Joe Lhota told NBC 4 New York that he couldn't even begin to say when subways and commuter rails might be up and running. All the damage, he said, was to tracks, stations and tunnels; subway cars and buses were not harmed.
"It's like nothing we've ever experienced before," he said. "We are in the assessment stage."
He said floodwaters also surged into the Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel and the Queens Midtown Tunnel. The entire mass transit system was shut down Sunday ahead of the storm, and most bridges and tunnels were closed as Sandy approached. Bridges began opening Tuesday morning.
Bloomberg estimated it would be four or five days before subway service is restored. Limited bus service resumed Tuesday, with fares waived. Yellow cabs will be able to pick up multiple passengers and livery cabs will be up to pick up curbside fares, Bloomberg said. Riders in both instances should negotiate fares with the driver ahead of time, the mayor said.
New York City schools were to be closed for a third day Wednesday, the mayor said. The New York Stock Exchange said it would resume trading on Wednesday after two days of halted business.
Kennedy Airport and Newark Airport will re-open at 7 a.m. Wednesday with limited air service. The Port Authority says some carriers will be landing planes with new passengers at Kennedy Airport Tuesday night to be prepared for flights the next day. LaGuardia Airport remains closed.
At least 80 homes were destroyed in the Breezy Point section of the Rockaway peninsula in Queens, where firefighters battled an overnight fire that escalated to a six-alarm blaze. It wasn't clear if anyone was injured. Bloomberg said 23 serious fires erupted throughout the city overnight. Police arrested nine people for looting in the Rockaways on Tuesday, officials said.
NYU's Langone Medical Center had to move 200 patients late Monday after its backup generator failed. NYU Medical Dean Robert Grossman said patients — among them 20 babies from neonatal intensive care that were on battery-powered respirators — had to be carried down staircases and to dozens of waiting ambulances.
The howling winds ripped through the canyons of Manhattan's skyscrapers, likely contributing to the collapse of a crane at 57th Street and Sixth Avenue, where police stopped traffic on nearby streets and evacuated buildings as it dangled 90 stories above the ground. Downtown, rescuers responded to a building collapse on Eighth Avenue as Battery Park began to flood.
Hundreds of thousands had been ordered to evacuate low-lying areas, but many still remained when the waters began to swell Monday. By evening, officials said it was too late to get out of flood-prone areas, and as Sandy swirled into the city, the sea washed into coastal areas including swaths of Manhattan, the Rockaways in Queens and Coney Island in Brooklyn.
Rescuers responded in boats as the water line rose, reaching attic level in some Staten Island homes. The 911 system became overloaded with 20,000 calls an hour, officials said, asking those without urgent emergencies not to call.
Flooding in low-lying areas complicated police rescues, with water overtaking precincts in parts of the city. Hundreds were rescued from those areas citywide, officials said.
The rising water also made rescues dangerous in New Jersey, where the barrier islands and Atlantic City had been under an evacuation order since Sunday. As the storm surge lapped over the sea wall in Cape May, punching through dunes in other communities, Gov. Chris Christie said that anyone stuck on the barrier islands would have to wait until morning for rescue.
On Tuesday, he said the devastation on the Jersey shore was "unthinkable." Parts of amusement piers at Seaside Park washed into the Atlantic Ocean, railroad bridges were damaged, train tracks on the North Jersey Coast line were swept away, rail cars were carried by floodwaters onto the New Jersey Turnpike and homes were swept off their foundations in Ocean County.
Officials were estimating Tuesday that at least 20,000 people remained stranded in Hoboken, where Mayor Dawn Zimmer said residents were surrounded by water. The New Jersey National Guard began assisting in rescues late Tuesday night.
President Barack Obama declared a major disaster in New York City, New Jersey and Long Island, making federal funding available to the areas most decimated by the sea surge.
Sandy had intensified as it churned toward the Jersey shore near Atlantic City, hurtling toward the region with sustained winds of 90 mph. The storm then changed over to a post-tropical cyclone, which was being absorbed into what forecasters describe as a large Nor'easter. It is winding down over the next 24 hours, but will continue to produce heavy rain and cause more flooding as it moves over the Northeast.