By ADAM GELLER, Associated Press
NEW YORK (AP) — People in the coastal corridor battered by superstorm Sandy took the first cautious steps to reclaim routines upended by the disaster, even as rescuers combed neighborhoods strewn with debris and scarred by floods and fire.
But while New York City buses returned to darkened streets eerily free of traffic and the New York Stock Exchange prepared to reopen its storied trading floor Wednesday, it became clear that restoring the region to its ordinarily frenetic pace could take days — and that rebuilding the hardest-hit communities and the transportation networks that link them together could take considerably longer.
"We will get through the days ahead by doing what we always do in tough times — by standing together, shoulder to shoulder, ready to help a neighbor, comfort a stranger and get the city we love back on its feet," New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg said.
By late Tuesday, the winds and flooding inflicted by the fast-weakening Sandy had subsided, leaving at least 55 people dead along the Atlantic Coast and splintering beachfront homes and boardwalks from the mid-Atlantic states to southern New England.
The storm later moved across Pennsylvania on a predicted path toward New York State and Canada.
At the height of the disaster, more than 8.2 million lost electricity — some as far away as Michigan. Nearly a quarter of those without power were in New York, where lower Manhattan's usually bright lights remained dark for a second night.
But, amid the despair, talk of recovery was already beginning.
"It's heartbreaking after being here 37 years," Barry Prezioso of Point Pleasant, N.J., said as he returned to his house in the beachfront community to survey the damage. "You see your home demolished like this, it's tough. But nobody got hurt and the upstairs is still livable, so we can still live upstairs and clean this out. I'm sure there's people that had worse. I feel kind of lucky."
Much of the initial recovery efforts focused on New York City, the region's economic heart. Bloomberg said it could take four or five days before the subway, which suffered the worst damage in its 108-year history, is running again. All 10 of the tunnels that carry commuters under the East River were flooded. But high water prevented inspectors from immediately assessing damage to key equipment, raising the possibility that the nation's largest city could endure an extended shutdown of the system that 5 million people count on to get to work and school each day. The chairman of the state agency that runs the subway, Joseph Lhota, said service might have to resume piecemeal, and experts said the cost of the repairs could be staggering.
Power company Consolidated Edison said it would be four days before the last of the 337,000 customers in Manhattan and Brooklyn who lost power have electricity again and it could take a week to restore outages in the Bronx, Queens, Staten Island and Westchester County. Floodwater led to explosions that disabled a power substation Monday night, contributing to the outages.
Surveying the widespread damage, it was clear much of the recovery and rebuilding will take far longer.
When New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie stopped in Belmar, N.J., during a tour of the devastation, one woman wept openly and 42-year-old Walter Patrickis told him, "Governor, I lost everything."
Christie, who called the shore damage "unthinkable," said a full recovery would take months, at least, and it would likely be a week or more before power is restored to everyone who lost it.
"Now we've got a big task ahead of us that we have to do together. This is the kind of thing New Jerseyans are built for," he said. President Barack Obama is scheduled to visit the state Wednesday to inspect the storm damage.
By sundown Tuesday, however, announcements from officials and scenes on the streets signaled that New York and nearby towns were edging toward a semblance of routine.