Up to 40,000 New Yorkers homeless as cold sets in
Published: November 4, 2012 04:32PM
Updated: November 4, 2012 01:25PM

NEW YORK — With many residents left homeless after the devastation from last week’s storm, New York-area officials began focusing on Sunday on another weather-related factor that might make the problems even worse: colder weather that is moving into the region.

In New York, 30,000 to 40,000 people, mainly residents of public housing, will have to find new homes, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg said at a news conference with Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo on Sunday. Bloomberg compared it to the situation after Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans.

“I don’t know that anybody has ever taken this number of people and found housing for them overnight,” the mayor said.

Many residents in New Jersey, on Long Island and in Connecticut face a similar problem. “This is going to be a massive, massive housing problem,” Cuomo said.

Temperatures throughout the region fell early Sunday into the 30s, and the National Weather Service issued a freeze watch on Sunday for parts of New Jersey, including the coast, where many residents remained without heat. Officials have urged them to head to shelters.

Bloomberg called the cold the “most pressing” challenge in the recovery. The city has opened heating shelters and is passing out blankets to New Yorkers without electricity.

“You can die from being cold,” Bloomberg said Sunday. “You can die from fires started from candles or stoves. Please go to the local disaster site. If you don’t know where to go, stop a cop on the side of the road and ask.”

Adding to the concerns, forecasters now say that a northeaster could move in by midweek, hitting the already battered coastal areas with heavy winds and strong waves. Freezing temperatures are also expected.

As of Sunday, more than 700,000 remained without power in New York state, including 404,000 on Long Island and 154,000 in New York City.

Nearly a million customers in New Jersey and 70,000 in Connecticut were also still without power. But restoring electric service is only the first step. When the storm surge flooded homes along the coast, the ocean water destroyed boilers and hot-water heaters.

Yet amid the despair, there has been an outpouring of good will. On Staten Island, in the Rockaways and in other regions pummeled by Hurricane Sandy, thousands of people, including runners in Manhattan who had expected to compete in the New York City Marathon, which was canceled late last week, have pitched in to haul away fallen trees and distribute food and clothing.

The narrow streets of Midland Beach, one of the hardest hit areas on Staten Island, were buzzing with activity. Volunteers carried hoes, rakes, brooms and shovels as they went door to door offering their labor. Others circled the blocks in pickup trucks full of food, blankets, clothes and cleaning supplies. Impromptu distribution centers, piled high with food and secondhand clothes, sprung up on every other corner.

“Anybody need anything?” a man shouted from a truck to a group cleaning out a house on Olympia Boulevard. A few minutes later, two women pulling rolling suitcases paused in front of the same house. “Need anything?” one said. “Toiletries?”

“We’re tough,” Cuomo said Sunday. “We’re also sweet and we’re also kind and we’re also giving, and you can see that all across the state this morning.”

Yet, it was not enough to solve some of the immense problems facing the region. There are continuing difficulties in delivering fuel. In New Jersey, Gov. Chris Christie has declared a fuel emergency and imposed gasoline rationing in 12 counties.

Cuomo said that tankers and barges were on the way to help alleviate shortages. The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey announced that Port Elizabeth, N.J., reopened on Sunday to receive its first shipment of cargo since it was closed by Hurricane Sandy. All other Port Authority seaports remained closed.

“We do believe it is a short-term problem,” Cuomo said, adding that shortages could continue for several days.

As for the subways, all of the numbered lines were running to some degree, said Joseph J. Lhota, the chairman of the Metropolitan Transit Authority, who spoke with Cuomo and Bloomberg at a joint news conference.

to 14th Street, and transit officials said they hope that it will reach Rector Street by Monday. (The South Ferry station, although the water has been pumped out, remains unusable.)

Lhota said that trains would appear at stations less often than on a normal weekday. “We are in uncharted territory here,” he said. He suggested that travelers take account of longer travel times. “Leave a little bit earlier, or leave a little bit later,” he said. Bloomberg said he would take the subway to work on Monday.

The cancellation of the New York City Marathon did not stop hundreds of runners from showing up at Central Park on Sunday morning, many of them celebrating as if the event had not been canceled at all.

Portable bathrooms, tents and even the famed finish line were still set up and provided runners near and far for a photo opportunity on what would have been Marathon Sunday.

“We came from Lima, Peru, to run,” Gonzalo Larrain, president and founder of Peru Runners, said as he and three of his travel companions posed in front of the statue of Fred Lebow, the race’s founder. “We understand why they canceled, but we thought we should come out today. We had no idea there would be so many people here.”

Security guards asked people to clear a path for the hundreds of runners trotting by, many in orange shirts, waving flags of their respective countries and cheering one another on. Some asked for donations for the Red Cross as they jogged by. There was a barrage of languages and an assembly of athletes from grade school children to adults. Some cried at the finish line.

The bleachers set up at the finish line were crowded with hundreds of fans, who clanged cowbells and yelled encouragement to the runners. Most toted their own water bottles, and some used pedometers to mark how many laps around the park they needed to complete to hit the 26.2 mile marathon mark.

Greg Osborn, 62, of Melbourne, Australia, showed up in his custom-made white and green shirt bearing his name. His wife, Yvonne, cheered him on.

“It took a long time to get here,” she said. “Then we found out it was canceled. But standing out here with the sun and all these people? It’s beautiful.”