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Struggle, Loss, Ruin in Sandy's Wake

East Coast residents face devastation and long road to recovery

- Common Dreams staff

(Photo by Spencer Platt / Getty)As Hurricane Sandy moves northwest, slowly losing strength, much of the US eastern seaboard is still reeling from the effects of the record setting superstorm that experts say will take months to recover from.

"The biggest problem is not the first few days but the coming months," said Alan Rubin, an expert in natural disaster recovery.

Of the 8.2 million people who lost electricity in the storm roughly 6.5 million homes and businesses are still without power—4 million of those in New York and New Jersey. Power outages stretch as far west as Wisconsin and as far south as the Carolinas.

Power company Consolidated Edison said it could take several days for the last of the 337,000 customers in Manhattan and Brooklyn to regain electricity and it could take over a week to restore outages in the Bronx, Queens, Staten Island and Westchester County.

At least 59 people are said to have died in the storm in the US, but the known death toll may still rise.

As communities begin to uncover what's left of their lives from the storm damage, stories of struggle and loss are surfacing, along with attempts to rebuild.

New York:

Commuter traffic quickly froze to gridlock Wednesday morning between Manhattan and the boroughs, as many residents failed at attempts to return to normal life. Major tunnels and most of the city's subway system remained flooded Wednesday morning, and LaGuardia Airport remained closed due to major runway flooding.Heavy traffic on the Brooklyn Bridge Wednesday morning (Keith Bedford/Reuters)

One of New York City's major public hospitals, Bellevue Hospital Center, announced Wednesday afternoon that it is now evacuating about 500 patients, due to an inability to cope with limited resources and electricity.

The hospital's back-up generators no longer suffice, and appeals for other hospitals to take Bellevue patients have been marked “URGENT” and “ASAP.”

Officials at other hospitals in the area said they have been asked to take on patients far above their capacity.

At Bellevue, The New York Times reports:

On Tuesday, signs of stress were evident as people could be seen carrying babies down the staircase. One doctor questioned why the hospital was not fully evacuating, and thought it might be that because the nearby NYU Langone Medical Center had been forced to evacuate 300 patients, after discharging 100, there was not enough room at other hospitals.

The hospital smelled bad, perhaps from fuel. Emergency lights were on. Ambulances were being diverted from the emergency room, which is one of the city’s major trauma centers.

In Manhattan, destruction grows the further south one travels.

According to Reuters:

Almost every street below Times Square in the city's Midtown district lost power on Monday night after an explosion at a Consolidated Edison power station, and it may not return for up to four days.

Chinatown, where the narrow streets are usually crowded with people and rich with smells of fish and spices, was mostly closed, its jumble of neon signs darkened.

For some, the FDR Drive, which runs along Manhattan's east side and which is normally jam-packed with traffic, was a giant park as they strolled among the downed trees and other detritus of the flood. The highway was closed to traffic in both directions, except for emergency vehicles.

One Brooklyn resident—whose building's electrical wires were left steaming after his basement flooded—said the fire department told him they would not come unless the structure was physically on fire. "I'll wait, and then it'll go up like a tinderbox," he said.

Looting has become a problem in the Coney Island section of Brooklyn, as opportunists took advantage of unprotected shops. Over 100 police officers patrolled the area to guard a strip of vandalized stores and a damaged bank.

In Queens, residents remain dazed following the massive fire at Breezy Point which devastated roughly 100 homes over the course of the hurricane.

An aerial view of Breezy Point shows the devastation caused by both fire and water. (Photo by Mike Groll / AP)

The Associated Press reports:

Firefighters arrived at 11 p.m. Monday to find water chest-high in the streets, and used a boat to make rescues as orange flames engulfed home after home. The water and high winds whipping the coast from Sandy kept the blaze raging for several hours as firefighters hauled hoses while sloshing in ankle-high water.

“We watched the whole place go up in flames. It was hell night. It was the devil’s night,” said resident Thomas Reicherter.

The neighborhood—nicknamed the “Irish Riviera”—is predominately home to policeman, firefighters and teachers. Those houses not claimed by the fire are overwhelming waterlogged, with missing walls or "listing on sunken foundations." As of Wednesday, there was still no electricity or running water, and the neighborhood’s walkways were covered with sand and other refuse left behind after the water retreated.

Footage was released Wednesday of police in Staten Island rescuing trapped residents from the roofs of their homes:

New Jersey:

President Barack Obama was planning to visit New Jersey on Wednesday to see the area near Atlantic City where the violent storm made landfall two days before.

In Hoboken, up to 20,000 people are still trapped in their homes by stubborn flood waters, and are still without power. National Guard troops have arrived in the city to help people evacuate from their homes and bring some to emergency shelters. The city's official Facebook page told residents to stay in their homes for safety concerns, including live-wires in the flooded streets and sewage contamination mixing with the waters. Residents were told to wait for National Guard trucks to come to them, giving priority to those with medical emergencies.

Water is not expected to recede for up to 48 hours.

The Guardian reports that Hoboken's Facebook page has become a message board for residents and their relatives, seeking to contact and help each other. On the site, one woman, wrote: "Please rescue my sister. She is 7 months pregnant and she lives at 517 Jackson Street, on the second floor. We have not heard from her since Monday. Thank you. Stay strong everyone!!""

Diane Adduchio Blaskewicz, from Old Tappan, NJ, wrote: “Is Madison between 4th & 45th still flooded? Not able to contact my son, his wife and three-year-old."

David Tufts, wrote: "1st and Willow we have a daughter and baby at 262 1st street. Can anyone please advise the flood status in that area, we are extremely worried-no contact for 2 days.”Flooding in Hoboken, New Jersey, as seen by a Guardian reader. (Photograph: Ewelina Kajak)

Elsewhere in New Jersey, about 4,500 residents sat in shelters on Wednesday. Many in the northern part of the state were rescued on overcrowded buses and National Guard trucks after the tidal surge pushed the Hackensack River over its banks.

Brian Sinclair of Little Ferry told Bloomberg News that his first floor was submerged. “It was like the water got shot out of a cannon, it gushed so fast,” he said.

Bloomberg reports that many other New Jersey residents, though told to evacuate, are now stranded and struggling to make-do:

At The Ocean apartments along the Atlantic City beach, some of the 100 residents used two black charcoal grills in the vented basement parking garage to make community meals of hot dogs and chicken.

“The city said they aren’t coming out until they clear the city streets,” said resident Tamara Barley, who stayed with her two children. Ainalem Siyoum added that the the city abandoned the tenants. “Nobody came to get us,” she said, explaining why many, including herself, didn’t evacuate.

Relief:

In the face of such extreme frustration and loss some relief groups have already begun to mobilize. Peter Rothberg, writing for The Nation, compiled a list of ways to help victims of the hurricane including places to volunteer and donate.

Occupy Wall Street has teamed with 350.org and Recovers.org, a disaster relief platform, in a coordinated response. The groups have opened centers in waterfront neighborhoods that have experienced some of the most the dramatic flooding: the Lower East Side in Manhattan, Red Hook in Brooklyn, and Astoria in Queens.

OWS has called on anyone with "experience in or tools for medical and psychological services, electrician work, plumbing, construction, financial or legal services, debris and tree removal, childcare, transportation, senior services or language skills" to volunteer, and individuals in need of assistance to use the twitter hashtag #SandyAid.

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