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Getting back to normal after Sandy

Getting back to normal after Sandy This photo from Metropolitan Transportation Authority shows some boarding a bus as partial bus service was restored last night.

Wed, October 31, 2012 - 9:26 AM

NEW YORK (AP) — Two days after superstorm Sandy brought New York to a standstill, residents itching to get back to work and their old lives noticed small signs that the city might be getting back to — well, not quite normal.

Morning rush-hour traffic appeared thicker than on an ordinary day as people started to return to work in a New York without functioning subways. Cars were bumper to bumper on several major highways.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg planned to ring the bell at the New York Stock Exchange to reopen it after a rare two-day closure.

Perhaps most promising, though, was the people waiting at bus stops — a sign that mass transit was trying to resume even as the subway system and some vehicle tunnels remained crippled by Sandy's record storm surge.

Even though workaday life was slowly returning, there was little false hope.

"Clearly, the challenges our city faces in the coming days are enormous," Bloomberg said Tuesday as officials warned that power might not be back until the weekend for hundreds of thousands of people accustomed to their cosmopolitan lives.

While some bus service resumed and some bridges reopened, transit officials said they couldn't predict when the subway would run again after suffering the worst damage in its 108-year history.

The death toll rose to 22 in the city, including two people who drowned in a home and one who was in bed when a tree fell on an apartment. A fire destroyed as many as 100 houses in a flooded beachfront neighborhood in Queens, while firefighters used boats to rescue people in chest-high water.

For the eight million people who live here, the city was a different place one day after being battered by the megastorm.

Schools were shut for a second day and were closed today, too. And people inside and outside the city scrambled to find ways to get to work.

In lower Manhattan where power was out, traffic streamed off the Brooklyn Bridge but slowed as it approached downtown. There were few signs that traffic was being directed by police through intersections with darkened stoplights.

Buses have resumed partial service and are free, for now. And the city has modified taxi rules and encouraged drivers to pick up more than one passenger at a time.

Faced with the prospect of days without power and swaths of the city plunged into darkness at night, police brought in banks of lights and boosted patrols to reassure victims of a monster storm that they won't be victims of crime.

Some prominent galleries in Manhattan's Chelsea neighbourhood hired private security and apartment building superintendents suddenly became guards. In Coney Island, about 100 police officers stood on corners or cruised in cars to guard a strip of vandalized stores and a damaged bank, to the relief of shaken residents.

There was little sign of a crime wave, although police made multiple arrests in the city Monday and Tuesday, officials said. Charges included burglary, criminal mischief and trespassing. In one incident, three men were arrested on burglary charges after they struck a Radio Shack in Rockaway Beach, Queens, on Tuesday morning.

Bloomberg promised "a very heavy police presence" in the darkened neighborhoods, which include much of Manhattan south of the Empire State Building, from the East River to the Hudson River. Even outside the blackout areas, police deployed vans and patrol cars with their roof lights on, along with officers on the streets in a robust show of force.

Problems with high-voltage systems caused by the storm forced the utility to cut power Tuesday night to about 160 000 additional customers in Brooklyn and Staten Island.

Consolidated Edison, the power company, estimated it would be days before the last of the hundreds of thousands of customers in Manhattan and Brooklyn who lost power have electricity again. For the Bronx, Queens, Staten Island and Westchester County, with even more outages, it could take a week.

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