NEW: Sec. Napolitano tours Staten Island, identifies housing as a critical issue
PATH train reopening Monday; new ferry route could help with New York commute
Two newly reported deaths in New York raise Sandy's death toll to at least 113
Tens of thousands still without power; many Long Islanders may not have any until Tuesday
Throngs crowded the streets of Manhattan Sunday, as they do each Veterans Day, celebrating and remembering Americans who served their country, often enduring extreme hardships.
But this year was different. Many people in New York City’s suburbs and outer boroughs had little time for festivities, since they’re enduring great hardships of their own after Superstorm Sandy tore through the region almost two weeks ago.
The United War Veterans Council, which organizes New York’s annual Veterans Day parade, promoted this year’s event as “a rally for storm victims,” collecting winter coats for those devastated by Sandy.
Thirteen days after the superstorm crashed through their metropolitan area, New Yorkers 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.
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Sandy is responsible for at least 113 deaths across several states, with 43 of those fatalities in New York City, according to New York’s chief medical examiner’s office.
The two latest additions to that staggering total are a 66-year-old man who drowned in his Staten Island home, and whose body wasn’t found for 11 days; and a 77-year-old man from the battered beachside community of Far Rockaway, Queens, who died at the hospital from injuries he suffered when he fell down a flight of stairs.
As of mid-afternoon Sunday, about 150,000 customers in 10 states and the District of Columbia still had no power, with the vast majority of the outages in the New York metropolitan area.
Nearly 40,000 New York customers, mostly in Brooklyn and Queens, lacked electricity, according to the utility companies Con Edison and the Long Island Power Authority (LIPA). More than 1,000 customers in Westchester County, just north of the city, had no electricity, either. Con Ed said it hoped to restore power to all of its customers by the end of the day Sunday. Some of the 34,000 or so LIPA customers in the dark on Queens’ Rockaway peninsula may have to wait a couple of more days, LIPA said on its website.
The electricity was back on in all but a few dozen homes in Staten Island, according to Con Ed, but the damage there goes well beyond the power grid. Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano headed to the the city’s southernmost borough Sunday afternoon to walk through rubble, survey relief and progress, and comfort residents for the second time this month.
She has spent November touring the regions mercilessly wracked by Superstorm Sandy, hopping from one ruined landscape to the next, from West Virginia to Connecticut.
“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 moving forward.
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.
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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. But commuting could get a little easier for New Jersey residents on Monday. The PATH rail system from the Newark Penn and Harrison stations in New Jersey to Manhattan will resume at 5 a.m., 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.
While power has been restored in most of New York City and New Jersey, full-blown protests have erupted on Long Island, with hundreds of angry residents picketing the local utility provider.
“We still have more than 100,000 customers that do not have power. There’s no timeline as to when they’re going to get it. There are whole communities that have been wrecked,” Rep. Peter King, R-NewYork, who represents part of Long Island, told CNN’s “State of the Union” Sunday.
“Thousands of people are going to be homeless, and the devastation is enormous. I have asked the president if he could send in more members of the Army Corps of Engineers, also more FEMA workers and people from the energy department because LIPA – the Long Island Public Authority – has failed miserably. They are not doing their job,” King said.
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 lights and running water came back on at a 915-resident, four-building high rise complex called The Sand Castle Saturday night, and the heat will hopefully kick on later Sunday, according to superintendent Danny Sanchez.
Most of the Far Rockaway complex’s residents are senior citizens, who are “thrilled” LIPA got the elevators working again, Sanchez said.
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Twice daily, 70-year-old Albina Williams had been dragging at least four gallons of water – weighing about 35 pounds – up six flights of stairs.
When CNN’s Susan Candiotti caught up with Williams Saturday, the elderly woman wore a thick parka with a hood against the fall chill. Each clunking step up was an effort. On the third floor, the halfway point, she stopped to gather strength and catch her breath.
A neighbor passed her going up, also dragging water – all the way to the 16th floor.
In her cold apartment, Williams explained how she layers four pairs of pajamas and blankets to stay warm at night.
“I put this on, and then I put this over it. Then pants on. Then this over it. Then, this comforter.”
Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-New York, told insurance companies Sunday not to force hurricane deductibles on homeowners suffering from Sandy’s aftereffects.
Unlike regular deductibles that require property owners to pay a set dollar amount – typically $500 or $1,000 – hurricane deductibles often require payments of between 1% and 5% of a property’s value. For example, a policyholder with a house valued at $300,000 and a hurricane deductible of 5% would have to pay $15,000 toward damage repair before insurance payments kick in.
The National Weather Service has said Sandy didn’t meet the technical criteria to be labeled a hurricane when it made landfall. Instead, it classified Sandy a “post-tropical cyclone.”
CNN’s James O’Toole, Susan Candiotti and Dominique Dodley contributed to this report