Storm-Crippled NYC Subway Creaks Back Into Service

Joseph Leader, Metropolitan Transportation Authority vice president and chief maintenance officer, shines a flashlight on standing water inside the South Ferry 1 train station in New York, N.Y., Wednesday, Oct. 31, 2012, in the wake of superstorm Sandy.

Joseph Leader, Metropolitan Transportation Authority vice president and chief maintenance officer, shines a flashlight on standing water inside the South Ferry 1 train station in New York, N.Y., Wednesday, Oct. 31, 2012, in the wake of superstorm Sandy.

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By ADAM GELLER and MEGHAN BARR, Associated Press

NEW YORK (AP) — New York tried to resume its normal frenetic pace Thursday, getting back its vital subway system after a crippling storm but still finding it slow on gridlocked highways.

Commuters lined up at Penn Station to board uptown trains at 6 a.m. Technology worker Ronnie Abraham was on one of them, hoping to get home to Harlem, a trip that is 20 minutes by train and 2 1/2 hours by bus.

[READ: Get Ready for More 'Frankenstorms']

"It's the lifeline of the city," Abraham said. "It can't get much better than this."

Ray Dunn, a paramedic, was trying to get work in the Bronx for the first time since the storm barreled up the East Coast, killing more than 70 people.

"There's no way to get to work unless you drive," said Dunn, who doesn't own a car.

After reopening its airports, theaters and stock exchange, city officials hoped the subways would ease the throng of gridlocked traffic that the city faced in the past three days, often without working stoplights. But television footage Thursday showed heavy traffic crawling into Manhattan, as police turned away cars that carried fewer than three people — a rule meant to ease the congestion that paralyzed the city earlier this week.

The decision to reopen undamaged parts of the nation's largest transit system came as the region struggled to restore other basic services to recover from a storm that still had more than 5 million people in the dark.

Across the region, people stricken by the storm pulled together, in some cases providing comfort to those left homeless, in others offering hot showers and electrical outlets for charging cellphones to those without power.

[PHOTOS: Cleaning Up From the Superstorm]

The spirit of can-do partnership extended even to politicians, who at least made the appearance of putting their differences aside to focus together on Sandy.

"We are here for you," President Barack Obama said in Brigantine, N.J., touring a ravaged shore. "We are not going to tolerate red tape. We are not going to tolerate bureaucracy."

Obama joined Republican Gov. Chris Christie, who had been one of the most vocal supporters of Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney, to tour the ravaged coast. But the two men spoke only of helping those harmed by the storm.

That was already beginning Wednesday, when masses of people walked shoulder-to-shoulder across the Brooklyn Bridge to Manhattan for work, reversing the escape scenes from the Sept. 11 terror attack and the blackout of 2003. They reached an island, where many people took the lack of power and water and transportation as a personal challenge.

On Third Avenue, people gathered like refugees around a campfire. But instead of crackling flames, their warmth came from more advanced technology: a power strip that had been offered to charge cellphones.

At a fire hydrant on West 16th Street, 9-year-old Shiyin Ge and her brother, 12-year-old Shiyuan Ge, stood in line to fill up buckets of water. But unlike the adults, the two kids held plastic Halloween candy pails painted with grinning jack-o-lanterns.

[READ: Resources For the Aftermath of Superstorm Sandy]

"There's no water in our house," said Shiyin Ge, who had planned to dress up as a ladybug for Halloween.

After suffering the worst disaster in its 108-year-old history, the subways were to roll again — at least some of them. More than a dozen of the lines would offer some service, but none below Manhattan's 34th Street, a line of demarcation in the city separating the hardest-hit residents from those who escaped the brunt.

Downtown Manhattan, which includes the city's financial district, Sept. 11 memorial and other tourist sites, was still mostly an urban landscape of shuttered bodegas and boarded-up restaurants, where people roamed in search of food, power and a hot shower.

To get there from Brooklyn or Queens, commuters who would normally zoom beneath the East River in tunnels that flooded will have to take shuttle buses, adding to the enormous stress already being placed on gridlocked Manhattan streets.