Mark Lennihan, AP
NEW YORK — Subways started running again in much of New York City on Thursday for the first time since Superstorm Sandy, but traffic at bridges backed up for miles, long lines formed at gas stations, and tempers flared as commuters waited for buses.
The trains couldn't take some New Yorkers where they needed to go. There was no service in downtown Manhattan and other hard-hit parts of the city, and people had to switch to buses. But some of those who did use the subway were grateful.
"It's the lifeline of the city. It can't get much better than this," said Ronnie Abraham, who was waiting at Penn Station for a subway train to Harlem, a trip that takes 20 minutes underground but 2½ hours on the city's badly overcrowded buses.
Three days after Sandy slammed the mid-Atlantic and the Northeast, New York and New Jersey struggled to get back on their feet, the U.S. death toll climbed to more than 80, and more than 4.6 million homes and businesses were still without power.
Nearly 20,000 people remained stranded in their homes by floodwaters in Hoboken, N.J., across the river from the New York, and swaths of the New Jersey coastline lay in ruins, with countless homes, piers and boardwalks wrecked.
In a piece of good news for many New Yorkers, Con Edison said it is on track to restore power by Saturday in Manhattan, where a quarter-million customers were without electricity. And Mayor Michael Bloomberg said meals and bottled water will be distributed in hard-hit neighborhoods around the city.
Downtown Manhattan, which includes the financial district, the Sept. 11 memorial, Chinatown and Little Italy, was still mostly an urban landscape of shuttered bodegas and boarded-up restaurants. People roamed in search of food, power and a hot shower. Some dispirited and fearful New Yorkers decided to flee the city.
"It's dirty, and it's getting a little crazy down there," said Michael Tomeo, who boarded a bus to Philadelphia with his 4-year-old son. "It just feels like you wouldn't want to be out at night. Everything's pitch dark. I'm tired of it, big-time."
Rima Finzi-Strauss was taking a bus to Washington. When the power went out Monday night in her apartment building on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, it also disabled the electric locks on the front door, she said.
"We had three guys sitting out in the lobby last night with candlelight, and very threatening folks were passing by in the pitch black," she said. "And everyone's leaving. That makes it worse."
She said people were on the street buying "old, tiny little vegetables" and climbing 20 floors into apartments where they couldn't flush the toilet and had no heat. New York dipped to about 40 degrees Wednesday night.
The death toll in New York City alone was close to 40. Police on Thursday said two brothers, ages 2 and 4, who were swept away Monday night when waves of water crashed into an SUV driven by their mother in Staten Island were found dead.
Flights took off and landed Thursday at LaGuardia Airport, the last of the three major New York-area airports to reopen since the storm.
In the morning, more than 1,000 people waited outside an arena in Brooklyn for buses to Manhattan. When one bus pulled up, passengers rushed the door. A transit worker banged on a bus window and yelled at people on the bus and in line.
With the electricity out and gasoline supplies scarce, many stations across the metropolitan area closed, and the stations that were open drew long lines of cars that spilled out onto roads.
"Either they're out of gas or the lines are ridiculous," Katie Leggio said from her car, in line on Long Island. "I need gas. I think it's ridiculous that they're doing this to us when we're down, but what are you going to do? We're desperate, and we're helpless."
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