In darkened neighborhoods, people walked around with miner's lamps on their foreheads and bicycle lights clipped to shoulder bags and, in at least one case, to a dog's collar. A Manhattan handyman opened a fire hydrant so people could collect water to flush toilets.
"You can clearly tell at the office, or even walking down the street, who has power and who doesn't," said Jordan Spiro, who lives in the blackout zone. "New Yorkers may not be known as the friendliest bunch, but take away their ability to shower and communicate and you'll see how disgruntled they can get."
Some public officials expressed exasperation at the relief effort.
James Molinaro, president of the borough of Staten Island, suggested that people not donate money to the American Red Cross because the Red Cross "is nowhere to be found."
"We have hundreds of people in shelters throughout Staten Island," he said. "Many of them, when the shelters close, have nowhere to go because their homes are destroyed. These are not homeless people. They're homeless now."
Josh Lockwood, the Red Cross' regional chief executive, said 10 trucks began arriving to Staten Island on Thursday morning and a kitchen was set up to distribute meals. Lockwood defended the agency, saying relief workers were stretched thin.
"We're talking about a disaster where we've had shelters set up from Virginia to Indiana to the state Maine, so there's just this tremendous response," he said. "So I would say no one organization is going to be able to address the needs of all these folks by themselves."
In Manhattan's Chelsea neighborhood, Mary Wilson, 75, was buying water from a convenience store that was open but had no power. She said she had been without running water or electricity for three days, and lived on the 19th floor.
She walked downstairs Thursday for the first time because she ran out of bottled water and felt she was going to faint. She said she met people on the stairs who helped her down.
"I did a lot of praying: 'Help me to get to the main floor.' Now I've got to pray to get to the top," she said. "I said, 'I'll go down today or they'll find me dead.'"
Contributing to this story were Associated Press writers Cara Anna, Verena Dobnik, Michael Hill, Karen Matthews, Jennifer Peltz and Christina Rexrode in New York and Joan Lowy in Washington.
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