At least 22 people are dead, hundreds of thousands are without power and limited bus service is operating in New York City in the aftermath of superstorm Sandy, Mayor Michael Bloomberg said Tuesday.
"Make no mistake about it, this was a devastating storm, maybe the worst that we have ever experienced," the mayor said during a briefing at the Office of Emergency Management in Brooklyn. He said it could be four days or more before power is restored to hundreds of thousands of people now in the dark.
The city's vast transit system also could be crippled for days, both Bloomberg and Metropolitan Transportation Authority chairman Joseph J. Lhota said. Lhota said the subway system would probably return "in parts," with "creative" bus routes supplementing missing service.
"Our transportation system has never faced a disaster as devastating as Hurricane Sandy, which has caused an unparalleled level of damage," Lhota said after inspecting many of the hardest-hit areas.
Bloomberg said buses would run on a Saturday schedule and be fare-free.
Though President Barack Obama will be getting a firsthand look at the damage done by the superstorm in New Jersey, he will not be not be in New York City. Bloomberg Tuesday said he spoke to Obama and his chief of staff, Jack Lew, and told them the city would "love to have him, but we've got lots of things to do."
Shell-shocked New Yorkers struggled to recover from Sandy's hurricane-force winds, torrential rains and record 13-foot storm surge that turned city roadways into rivers, snapped trees like twigs, left cars scattered willy-nilly along the streets, toppled a crane on top of a midtown high-rise building and sent a deluge streaming into the hallowed World Trade Center site.
About 23 fires were reported in Staten Island, Brooklyn, Queens and on City Island in the Bronx. The fire that destroyed about 100 homes in Breezy Point overnight was under control, Bloomberg said.
Among Sandy's fatalities was an off-duty police officer who was helping to move six members of his family to safety inside his home on Doty Avenue in Staten Island, police officials said. Officer Artur Kasprzak, 28, was able to move the six adults and a 15-month-old boy into his attic to escape the floodwaters surging into the home, police said.
After securing their safety, Kasprzak, a six-year veteran of the force, told one of the adults that he was going to check on the basement. Twenty-three minutes later, she called 911 and reported him missing. Responders, who could not access the home because of downed power lines in the water, found his body the next morning, police said.
At midday Tuesday, about 780,000 Con Edison customers in New York City and Westchester County were still without power, and many were not expected to get it back for days. Of those, about 250,000 customers were in Manhattan, 180,000 in Westchester County, and the rest were spread among the city's other boroughs, officials said.
About half the outages were caused by fallen branches and downed power lines above ground, and the other half were caused by flooded underground infrastructure, the company reported. In areas where above-ground wires were damaged, many roads are blocked by fallen trees or flooded, officials said.
Restoring electrical service to underground equipment means cleaning all components of seawater, and drying and testing to make it safe to restore power, officials said.
"This is the largest storm-related outage in our history," said Con Edison senior vice president for Electric Operations John Miksad.
The company estimates that customers in Brooklyn and Manhattan served by underground electric equipment should have power back within four days. Restoration to all customers in other areas served by overhead power lines will take at least a week, officials said.
Kathryn Wylde, president and chief executive of the business group Partnership for New York City, said the storm's ultimate impact on business will depend entirely on how long it takes to get the power back on, and the roads and subways up.
She said the hardest hit will be brick and mortar businesses -- restaurants, hotels and department stores, particularly in lower Manhattan.
The city's famed Halloween Parade in Greenwich Village, scheduled for Wednesday night, was canceled.
All 40 Broadway theaters were closed, while most hoped to open Wednesday, The Associated Press reported.
Bloomberg said the 76 shelters in the city will remain open until people displaced in the storm can return to their homes or find temporary housing. He said there are about 6,100 people in the shelters.
Schools will remain closed Wednesday, but city workers should report to work, he said.
All across the city, landmarks and city streets turned to flood zones. The Space Shuttle Pavilion at the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum deflated during the storm. The famed wooden boardwalk on Coney Island in Brooklyn was covered with water, and the seaside aquarium was submerged under 14 feet of water.
A crane that caused chaos when its boom toppled from the side of a luxury high-rise under construction on West 57th Street in midtown on Monday was stable Tuesday, Bloomberg said in an evening news conference. The mayor said workers Wednesday will try to secure the boom, which remains hanging precipitously from the building near Carnegie Hall and Central Park. The area around the collapse remains evacuated, he said.
Engineers from the city's Department of Buildings climbed to the top of the 74-story building Tuesday to perform an initial inspection, said city Department of Buildings spokesman Tony Sclafani.