Saturday November 3, 2012
New York axes marathon, but some electricity returns
NEW YORK - New York's mayor canceled the city's marathon Friday, bowing to public and private pressure, as problems in the aftermath of superstorm Sandy saw frustrated motorists fight over meager fuel supplies.
Even though electricity finally returned to swaths of the Big Apple, parts of the city continued to struggle to recover from the devastation wreaked by Sandy, which left at least 95 dead in 15 states and in Canada.
The toll in New York City alone rose to 41 and at least 14 died in neighboring New Jersey, where searches of isolated areas are ongoing.
There was a glimmer of good news in the return of power to 90,000 customers in Manhattan, amounting to almost half of the residences still left in the dark there since Sandy struck. Full power was expected to return to the city's richest and most densely populated borough over the weekend.
However, widespread outages continued in other parts of the city, as well as in New Jersey. But tensions were laid bare as fights erupted in huge queues at the few gas stations that are still functioning, with some cities in the New York region rationing fuel even for emergency services.
Police were called to several outlets. One man in New York's Queens borough who tried to drive his BMW vehicle ahead of others in line was charged with pulling a gun on another driver.
Amid the city's struggles, Mayor Michael Bloomberg reversed his earlier position that the marathon should go ahead as a sign of resilience.
He had been under growing pressure from critics who said the marathon would divert badly needed police and other resources, and finally he issued the surprise statement saying he did not want controversy.
"The marathon has always brought our city together and inspired us with stories of courage and determination.
We would not want a cloud to hang over the race or its participants, and so we have decided to cancel it," he said.
The cancelation of the 40-year-old event was cheered by New Yorkers who organized a social media campaign accusing the authorities of being out of touch. However, it brought disappointment to 47,000 runners from all over the world.
More acute was the problem of finding fuel for vehicles as the biggest US city attempts to return to its bustling self.
Many stations have gasoline but none of the electricity needed to get pumps working and handle payments. Some station owners are refusing to open until police are on guard and drivers say they are waiting up to 10 hours to fill up.
At Essex County in New Jersey, authorities were limiting even police and fire vehicles to half a tank. The American Automobile Association estimates that 60 percent of gas stations in New Jersey and 70 percent in New York's Long Island are closed.
Authorities say 13 of the 34 fuel terminals around New York have no power. Suffering Manhattan commuters are struggling with "significantly" fewer taxis according to the New York Taxi and Limousine Commission.
The government, meanwhile, brought in fuel from other states and reopened ports to get supplies moving. Despite progress in Manhattan, the lack of electricity also continued to afflict tens of thousands of homeowners.
Some areas of New York have been warned they will have to wait until November 11 before getting power back.
National Guard troops handed out 290,000 meals and 500,000 bottles of water in the first day of an emergency aid operation in New York, Bloomberg said. Hundreds also queued for free ice to preserve food given out in the city's Union Square.
Until now, Bloomberg has been seen as deftly handling the organizational and political challenges of responding to one of the most devastating storms to hit the United States. However the marathon row could put a dent in his standing.
Pressure began in petitions on Twitter and other social networks, before politicians joined in.
Christine Quinn, the city council speaker and a close ally of Bloomberg, whom she is widely tipped to succeed, said she would not have given the go ahead.
James Oddo, a city councilor for Staten Island, one of the New York districts worst hit by the storm, tweeted: "If they take one first responder from Staten Island to cover this marathon I will scream. We have people with no homes and no hope right now."
Bloomberg defended his decision earlier Friday, saying New York pushed on with the marathon after the September 11, 2001 attacks and had to do so again.
"You have to keep going and doing things," he said. "You can grieve, cry, and laugh all at the same time. That's what human beings are good at."
But community leaders in Staten Island have complained bitterly that they have been forgotten as aid pours into other districts. At least 18 people died in Staten Island where huge waves swept away homes. - AFP