Storm Sandy: New York marathon cancelled after protests

 

BBC's Steve Kingstone: "A street re-made by a vicious act of nature'

This year's New York City marathon has been cancelled in the aftermath of the super storm Sandy, Mayor Michael Bloomberg has announced.

In a statement, he said: "We would not want a cloud to hang over the race or its participants, and so we have decided to cancel it."

Plans to press ahead with Sunday's event had prompted widespread anger in cyclone-ravaged parts of the city.

Ninety-six US deaths, 40 of them in New York, have been blamed on Sandy.

The storm had already killed 69 people as it swept across the Caribbean.

Across the US East Coast, some 3.5 million homes and businesses - 1.2 million in New York state alone - still have no electricity, four days after the storm made landfall.

Petrol shortages have also caused forecourt confrontations from New Jersey to Connecticut - one motorist was arrested after pulling a gun during an argument at a petrol queue.

In a bid to ease the fuel crunch on Friday, the US waived a law that normally bans foreign oil tankers from entering its north-eastern ports.

The Obama administration also ordered the purchase of up to 12m gallons (45m litres) of petrol and up to 10m gallons of diesel for areas affected by Sandy.

On Friday evening, musicians including Bruce Springsteen, Christina Aguilera and Billy Joel performed in an hour-long televised benefit for those affected by the storm.

New York marathon runner: ''We are very angry.... (they should have) cancelled it before we came''

Staten Island's anger

Mayor Bloomberg had previously insisted that the marathon would go ahead and would "give people something to cheer about".

But in his statement, he said that while hosting the event would not, as critics had said, divert resources from the recovery effort, "it is clear that it has become the source of controversy and division".

"We cannot allow a controversy over an athletic event - even one as meaningful as this - to distract attention away from all the critically important work that is being done to recover from the storm and get our city back on track," he said.

Food, blankets, portable toilets, generators and other items originally intended for the race are being donated by the organisers to storm-hit areas of the city.

The New York marathon is the largest in the world, with than 47,000 runners - about 20,000 of them from overseas - registered to take part this year.

It had been due to start in Staten Island, the hardest-hit part of the city, where 19 people died as a result of Sandy.

But before the race was cancelled, US Representative Michael Grimm, whose district covers the island, told CNN: "We're still pulling bodies out of the water and the mayor is worried about marathon runners and returning to life as normal."

Other local politicians, Republicans and Democrats, had also demanded the race be stopped.

Anger has also been rising in Staten Island at delays in bringing aid, as residents pick through the debris of their storm-pummelled homes.

Sandy swamped the low-lying borough with record tidal surges, sweeping entire houses off their foundations.

The bodies of two boys, aged two and four, who were torn from their mothers' arms by rushing floodwaters, were recovered in a Staten Island marsh on Thursday.

Time-lapse footage shows Sandy's passage over New York City - Footage courtesy New York Times/ Antoine Roux

Earlier, some runners who had signed up for the race told local website Gothamist they would instead volunteer on Staten Island. As the cancellation was announced, other runners said they would do the same.

However, some runners criticised the mayor's decision as having coming too late, after they had already arrived in the city.

"We spent thousands of dollars to bring our family here, paid for hotel rooms, airline tickets," said Terri Butler from Houston, Texas. "Cancel it before we come."

Meanwhile, New York utility company Consolidated Edison has announced it has begun restoring electricity to parts of lower Manhattan - including tens of thousands in the East Village and Lower East Side.

The firm says many in Manhattan will see electricity return by Saturday, and most of the city will be connected again by 11 November. But some customers could be without power for weeks.

New Jersey remains the hardest hit by outages, affecting 1.5m people.

In the city of Hoboken, on the banks of the Hudson river, the National Guard has been evacuating those stranded by floodwaters.

 

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