Life for people who live and work in New York City is supposed to start getting back to normal Monday, after a week of disruption caused by superstorm Sandy. But officials warned Sunday that the inconveniences of last week may not be behind city residents and commuters yet.
With gas shortages continuing and city schools back in session for the day, Mayor Michael Bloomberg warned that the recuperating public transportation system will be tested.
While many subway lines have been fully restored to service, several haven't, including some that use tunnels between Manhattan and Brooklyn and New Jersey, Bloomberg said. Metropolitan Transportation Authority chairman Joseph Lhota suggested that people try to commute before or after rush hour to avoid the crowds.
"Tomorrow's commute will not be normal," he said at a news conference Sunday in midtown attended by a host of local, state and federal officials including Bloomberg, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, and the state's Democratic senators, Charles Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand.
Bloomberg said the return to school will also bring challenges, with at least 65 schools remaining closed either because they were damaged in the storm or because they are still being used as shelters. An additional 75 schools are still without power, and will remain closed unless power is restored in time, Bloomberg said.
This means many parents will have to seek up-to-the minute information about their children's schools by calling 311 or by checking the Department of Education website, schools.nyc.gov, he said. Children whose schools are closed will be bused to alternate sites, some in other boroughs, he said. That means that bus drivers will have to study up fast on new routes and, inevitably, mistakes will be made, he said.
"Some people aren't going to like where the schools are," he said. "But I'd rather go through the pain and annoyance than miss another week of school."
On Tuesday, school will again be closed, this time for Election Day, he said.
"This way we can use Election Day to adjust the bus routes," he said.
Additionally, Bloomberg said about 143,000 voters will need to use alternate polling places Tuesday. He said residents should check the Board of Elections website at vote.nyc.ny.us to see if they are affected. Bloomberg does not oversee the city's Board of Elections.
At a morning news conference, Cuomo said the bulk of remaining power outages in the city are in Queens. That borough still has 86,000 outages, with Brooklyn and Staten Island tied for second with 20,000 outages each. The Bronx still had 12,000, and Manhattan, 7,000.
Bloomberg said he hopes considerable progress restoring power will be made in the coming days.
In the meantime, he said, residents suffering from the cold should get to shelters, especially seniors, parents with infants, and people with medical conditions.
"With cold weather coming, we have to make sure that people stay warm," he said, adding that city workers and volunteers are knocking on doors, walking the streets with megaphones and passing out leaflets to make sure homebound people aren't abandoned.
Bloomberg has said he put pressure on the Long Island Power Authority, which serves the area, to restore power more quickly in the Rockaways, and so far it's working: Between midnight Saturday and Sunday afternoon, 6,000 customers out of 25,000 got power back. But he said he is concerned for those who remain as the days get colder.
He said LIPA has added more crews and delivered 10 generators to public housing there.
But, he added that "even when power is back on, some of the buildings may be out of commission due to damage to boilers and electrical system."
The Associated Press reported that about 657,000 customers remain without electricity statewide, down from a peak of about 2.2 million Tuesday. Most continue to be in New York City, its northern suburbs and on Long Island.
The NYPD also reported Sunday that it is deploying 174 light towers to neighborhoods still without electricity, and made deliveries of food, clothing and batteries. The towers also allow people to recharge batteries and cellphones.
"At Beach 116th Street in Rockaway, a light tower prompted an ad hoc town square, with residents gathering to charge their devices and exchanging storm stories under the warmth emitted by the powerful lights," the NYPD said in a statement.
The NYPD said additional light towers will be delivered to neighborhoods that remain without power as they are received from FEMA or redeployed from neighborhoods where power is restored.
Police said the total of storm-related deaths reverted to 40 Sunday, after one fatality was determined not to have been caused by the storm.
NYPD spokesman also put out a statement saying the collapsed crane at West 57th street has been secured, and that street and the vicinity is open to pedestrian and vehicular traffic.