US & Canada

Sandy death toll hits 90 and keeps rising

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Media captionMany residents on Long Island have had their homes destroyed

The death toll from Sandy is continuing to rise, as swathes of the US East Coast battle to recover from the massive storm that hit three days ago.

At least 90 people are now known to have died in the US, 38 in New York City alone, and others are missing.

About 4.5 million people in 12 states are still without power, and chronic fuel shortages persist.

The National Guard is to deliver a million meals and bottled water to New Yorkers affected by the storm.

The number of dead in the US has exceeded the toll from the Caribbean, where 69 people were killed by Sandy.

The number could continue to rise as rescuers search house-by-house, especially in Staten Island, where elected officials have criticised the emergency response.

The storm could cost the US $50bn (£31bn), according to forecasting firm Eqecat, doubling the previous estimate.

Climate change fears

In New York, limited subway services resumed on Thursday, though four of the seven train tunnels under the East River remained flooded.

Fares on commuter trains, subways and buses have been temporarily waived in a bid to entice commuters off the traffic-choked roads.

Many of the petrol stations in the city and the state of New Jersey remained closed, and fights broke out amid long queues on forecourts.

The city authorities are only allowing vehicles carrying three passengers or more to cross into Manhattan.

Amtrak plans to restart its East Coast service - the busiest train line in the US - on Friday.

In lower Manhattan, where Sandy brought a record 14ft (4.2m) tidal surge, subway services are still closed and hundreds of thousands of homes without power.

"People feel safe during the day but as soon as the sun sets, people are extremely scared," Wolfgang Ban, a restaurant owner in the borough's Alphabet City neighbourhood, told Reuters.

"The fact that Guardian Angels are on the streets trying to restore law just shows how out of control the situation is in lower Manhattan," he added, referring to a group of anti-crime volunteers which operates in the city.

Power is expected to be restored to many New Yorkers by Saturday, but a local utility firm said some could be without power for weeks.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo on Thursday ordered the National Guard to help deliver some 30 tractor trailers of supplies to one million residents.

He has told relief workers to prioritise the elderly and poor, especially those living in high-rise blocks.

In the south-western New York City borough of Staten Island, at least 15 bodies have been recovered.

The storm, one of the biggest to hit the US in decades, swamped the low-lying district with tidal surges, lifting whole houses off their foundations.

Many residents in that community ignored official evacuation warnings and stayed behind to guard their homes.

Elected officials from the area criticised the response towards the island borough.

On Wednesday, Borough President James Molinaro urged Mr Bloomberg to call off Sunday's New York City Marathon, which begins on Staten Island, saying police resources could be better used.

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Media captionMarcia Sikowitz: "I had three sons, now I have two"

Meanwhile, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced his endorsement for President Barack Obama on Thursday, saying he had shown leadership on climate change, which he said could be causing severe storms such as Sandy.

Mayor Bloomberg said the devastation wrought by the cyclone had "brought the stakes of Tuesday's presidential election into sharp relief".

Air-mattress protest

Among the storm's victims were:

  • Two boys, aged two and four, who died after they were torn from their mother's arms by floodwaters, the New York Post reports.
  • John Filipowicz, 51, and his 20-year-old son John were found dead under debris in the basement of their Staten Island home.
  • Some 20,000 people who were still trapped in their homes amid sewage-tainted floodwaters in Hoboken, New Jersey, across the Hudson River from New York City.

Breezy Point, in New York City, where fire razed 111 homes, was described by one onlooker as resembling a war zone.

The National Guard is helping with evacuations and meal distributions.

One frustrated householder reportedly inflated an air mattress and floated to Hoboken city hall to find out why supplies had not yet arrived.

The cyclone also caused havoc further inland.

The state of West Virginia has seen up to 5ft of snow in some areas, after Sandy collided with two winter weather fronts.

Also on Thursday, the US Coast Guard called off its search for Robin Walbridge, 63, the captain of the tall ship HMS Bounty, which sank off the coast of North Carolina.

"Suspending a search and rescue case is one of the hardest decisions we have to make," said Captain Doug Cameron. The Coast Guard had searched for 90 hours, and had previously rescued another missing crew member, Claudene Christian, who later died.