NEW YORK – Subways started running again in much of New York City on Thursday for the first time since Superstorm Sandy, but traffic at bridges backed up for miles, long lines formed at gas stations, and big crowds waited impatiently for buses.
The trains couldn't take some New Yorkers where they needed to go. There was no service in downtown Manhattan and other hard-hit parts of the city, and people had to switch to buses. But some of those who did use the subway were grateful.
"It's the lifeline of the city. It can't get much better than this," said Ronnie Abraham, who was waiting at Penn Station for a subway train to Harlem, a trip that takes 20 minutes underground but 2½ hours on the city's badly overcrowded buses.
Three days after Sandy slammed the mid-Atlantic and the Northeast, New York and New Jersey struggled to get back on their feet, the U.S. death toll climbed to more than 80, and more than 4.6 million homes and businesses were still without power.
The total damage from Superstorm Sandy could run as high as $50 billion, according to the forecasting firm Eqecat. That would make it the second-costliest storm in U.S. history after Hurricane Katrina. The estimate include property damage and lost business
In New Jersey, where large swaths of the coastline lay in ruins, some residents finally got a look at what was left of their homes. Sandy wrecked houses, businesses and boardwalks.
"A lot of tears are being shed today," said Dennis Cucci, whose home near the ocean in Point Pleasant Beach was heavily damaged. "It's absolutely mind-boggling.
In a piece of good news for many New Yorkers, Con Edison said it is on track to restore power by Saturday in Manhattan, where a quarter-million customers were without electricity. And Mayor Michael Bloomberg said meals and bottled water would be distributed in hard-hit neighborhoods around the city through the weekend.
Downtown Manhattan, which includes the financial district, the Sept. 11 memorial, Chinatown and Little Italy, was still mostly an urban landscape of shuttered bodegas and boarded-up restaurants. People roamed in search of food, power and a hot shower. Some dispirited and fearful New Yorkers decided to flee the city.
"It's dirty, and it's getting a little crazy down there," said Michael Tomeo, who boarded a bus to Philadelphia with his 4-year-old son. "It just feels like you wouldn't want to be out at night. Everything's pitch dark. I'm tired of it, big-time."
Rima Finzi-Strauss was taking a bus to Washington. When the power went out Monday night in her apartment building on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, it also disabled the electric locks on the front door, she said.
"We had three guys sitting out in the lobby last night with candlelight, and very threatening folks were passing by in the pitch black," she said. "And everyone's leaving. That makes it worse."
She said people were on the street buying "old, tiny little vegetables" and climbing 20 floors into apartments where they couldn't flush the toilet and had no heat. New York dipped to about 40 degrees Wednesday night.
The death toll in New York City alone was close to 40. Police on Thursday said two brothers, ages 2 and 4, who were swept away Monday night when waves of water crashed into an SUV driven by their mother in Staten Island were found dead.
Flights took off and landed Thursday at LaGuardia Airport, the last of the three major New York-area airports to reopen since the storm.
In the morning, more than 1,000 people waited outside an arena in Brooklyn for buses to Manhattan. When one bus pulled up, passengers rushed the door. A transit worker banged on a bus window and yelled at people on the bus and in line.
With the electricity out and gasoline supplies scarce, many stations across the metropolitan area closed, and the stations that were open drew long lines of cars that spilled out onto roads.
"Either they're out of gas or the lines are ridiculous," Katie Leggio said from her car, in line on Long Island. "I need gas. I think it's ridiculous that they're doing this to us when we're down, but what are you going to do? We're desperate, and we're helpless."
Police enforced carpooling at bridges into the city, peering through windows to make sure each car carried at least three people. TV helicopter footage showed lines for miles.
Across the region, people stricken by the storm pulled together, providing comfort to those left homeless and offering hot showers and electrical outlets for charging cellphones to those without power. That cooperative spirit extended to politicians, who at least made the appearance of putting their differences aside to deal with the destruction wrought by Sandy.
"We are here for you," President Barack Obama said Wednesday in Brigantine, N.J., touring a ravaged shore alongside Republican Gov. Chris Christie, one of Mitt Romney's most vocal supporters. "We are not going to tolerate red tape. We are not going to tolerate bureaucracy."
In New Jersey, signs of the good life that had defined wealthy shorefront enclaves like Bayhead and Mantoloking lay scattered and broken: $3,000 barbecue grills buried beneath the sand and hot tubs cracked and filled with seawater. Nearly all the homes were seriously damaged, and many had disappeared.
"This," said Harry Typaldos, who owns the Grenville Inn in Mantoloking, "I just can't comprehend."
Most of the state's mass transit systems remained shut down, leaving hundreds of thousands of commuters to deal with clogged highways and quarter-mile lines at gas stations.
Darryl Jameson of Toms River waited more than hour to get fuel.
"The messed-up part is these people who are blocking the roadway as they try to cut in line," he said. "No one likes waiting, man, but it's something you have to do."
On New York's Long Island, bulldozers scooped sand off streets and tow trucks hauled away destroyed cars while people tried to find a way to their homes to restart their lives.
Richard and Joanne Kalb used a rowboat to reach their home in Mastic Beach, filled with 3 feet of water. Richard Kalb posted a sign on a telephone pole, asking passing drivers to show some mercy: "Slow please no wake."
Contributing to this report were Verena Dobnik, Eileen AJ Connelly, Karen Matthews, David B. Caruso, Leanne Italie and Lou Ferrara in New York; Samantha Henry in Hoboken, N.J.; Wayne Parry in Mantoloking, N.J., Katie Zezima in Seaside Heights, N.J.; Frank Eltman in Mastic Beach, N.Y., Larry Neumeister in Long Beach, N.Y., and Vicki Smith in Elkins, W.Va.