U.S. death toll from Sandy rises
By Chelsea J. Carter
(CNN) — Survivors of Superstorm Sandy struggled Thursday to balance their need for normalcy with the emotionally devastating weight of tragedy.
Many woke up and joined countless others who went to work, beset by thoughts of the dead and missing two days after Sandy slammed into the Northeastern U.S.
It’s unknown exactly how many people are unaccounted for. There are numerous reports in New York, New Jersey and elsewhere of ongoing search efforts.
The missing include two boys ripped from their mother’s arms by fierce waves, and a man believed to have been carried away by floodwater.
Other survivors are mourning the dead, including a father and son who drowned in the basement of their home; a young girl who was killed when the storm surge swallowed her house; and a woman who was electrocuted when she stepped on a downed power line.
At least 88 people in the United States and two in Canada have died, raising the storm’s overall death toll to 157. Sandy earlier claimed 67 lives in the Caribbean.
But the struggle toward normalcy ramped up Thursday, as authorities in nine states tallied worked to restore basic services like public transit and electricity.
The two missing boys are ages 2 and 4. They were separated from their mother when the SUV they were riding in was overwhelmed by the storm surge that struck New York’s Staten Island, authorities told CNN affiliate NY1.
The mother and two boys escaped the SUV that was quickly filling with water only to be overtaken by the storm surge.
“She had them in her arms, and a wave came and swept them out of her arms,” a family member told the New York Daily News.
Sandy claimed at least 37 lives in New York City, Mayor Michael Bloomberg told reporters Thursday.
The body of 13-year-old Andrea Dresch was pulled from the debris of a house in New York’s Staten Island that was swallowed by a tidal surge when Sandy swept ashore, authorities told CNN affiliate WCBS on Wednesday. Her father was among those reported missing, SILive.com reported.
When it comes to electricity, Manhattan has become an island of haves and have-nots. About 530,000 customers were without power citywide, Bloomberg said Thursday, many of them south of Midtown’s 34th Street. Parts of Queens and Staten Island also had no electricity Thursday. “Restoring power will take a lot of time,” he said.
New York’s vast transit network remains hobbled. The Metropolitan Transit Authority said 14 of 23 subway lines were running and 4,000 buses were taking up the slack — packed with commuters. Many who made their way into Manhattan from the outer boroughs Thursday took four to five hours to get to work. River and harbor ferries were close to resuming service, including the famous Staten Island Ferry, which Bloomberg said could be back in business in the next few days.
Floodwater filled some subway and vehicle tunnels, and getting water out of the tunnels is “one of the main orders of business right now,” Gov. Andrew Cuomo said.
Another sign of the struggle toward normalcy: the New York City Marathon. Organizers pushed to hold the iconic footrace as scheduled this Sunday.
Event organizer Mary Wittenberg said the race shouldn’t divert any resources from the recovery. But, she said, keeping the marathon on schedule signals that the city aims to rebound and be “as vital and vibrant as ever.”
Sandy came ashore late Monday in southern New Jersey, wiping out houses, pushing sand four blocks inland, in places, and leaving thousands stranded.
Search-and-rescue crews were going door-to-door in some neighborhoods looking for people, particularly the elderly, stranded by the power outages, the debris and remaining floodwater.
Sandy killed at least six people in New Jersey, said Gov. Chris Christie, who had warned people in low-lying areas to evacuate. “We’re lucky that more people didn’t die as a result of folks ignoring those warnings,” he told reporters.
A number of deaths were caused by the storm surge, downed electrical lines and cold weather.
Lauren Abraham, 23, was killed Monday outside her Jamaica, Queens, home in New York when she stepped on a downed electrical line in a puddle, police said.
The Lehigh County, Pennsylvania, coroner attributed the death of 86-year-old Theresa Schlitzer to hypothermia after she was found unconscious in her yard, CNN affiliate WHTM in Harrisburg reported.
Schlitzer died Tuesday after spending nearly 12 hours outside in the storm, the coroner told WHTM. Details about why Schlitzer was outside and how she became incapacitated were not immediately available.
Boats were washed onto front yards in the Staten Island neighborhood of Great Kills. Borough President James Molinaro said the water has mostly receded, but the damage is severe. Several people, including the two young boys, are missing.
In the same New York City borough, John Filipowicz, 51, and his 20-year-old son John were found dead after being buried under debris in the basement of their home after it was swamped by the storm surge, authorities told WCBS.
Commuters, homeowners and businesses, meanwhile, struggled with the loss of power and waterlogged or burned homes.
Many are still in need of basic supplies. President Barack Obama visited a shelter Wednesday in the hard-hit town of Brigantine, New Jersey, where he said he met a woman with an 8-month-old who had run out of diapers and formula.
“Those are the kinds of basic supplies and help that we can provide,” he said.
Obama promised that the federal government “will not quit” until communities are cleaned up.
“We are not going to tolerate red tape, we are not going to tolerate bureaucracy,” Obama said. “And I’ve instituted a 15-minute rule, essentially, on my team. You return everybody’s phone calls in 15 minutes, whether it’s the mayor’s, the governor’s, county officials’.
“If they need something, we figure out a way to say yes.”
Christie asked for patience as crews worked to turn the power back on for more than 2 million people still in the dark. He toured Brigantine on Wednesday with Obama, who said utilities from across the country have pledged to send crews to New Jersey as soon as possible.
By early Thursday, the remnants of Superstorm Sandy headed north through Canada, with the last of its effects beginning to wind down along the Appalachian Mountains, according to the National Weather Service.
The storm brought 2 to 3 feet of snow to some areas in West Virginia and Maryland, leaving thousands without power. Several more inches of snow are possible in some areas before the storm ends this week, the weather service said.
A little less than 4.9 million customers across the eastern United States were still in the dark early Thursday, down from the nearly 8 million who lost power shortly after the storm hit.
CNN’s Joe Sterling and Melissa Grey contributed to this report.