'Pure mayhem' as New York City tries to get back to work
Msnbc's Thomas Roberts takes a look at aerial shots of massive bus lines and snarled traffic in New York City as the subway remains flooded in lower Manhattan, where CNBC's Scott Cohn reports.
By Miguel Llanos, NBC News
The promise of limited restoration of transit services lured hundreds of thousands back into the nation's largest city Thursday, but the commute was nightmarish even by New York City's standards: Seemingly endless lines at bus stops, backups at the city's bridges and tunnels stretched for miles, and many people simply gave up after an hour or two of frustration.
Jason DeCrow / AP
Motorists sit in heavy traffic while crossing the Robert F. Kennedy Triboro Bridge Thursday in the Queens borough of New York.
The scene was "pure mayhem," Lanisha Harris, who was trying to get to work in Manhattan from Canarsie, Brooklyn, told NBCNewYork.com in the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy.
The order that all vehicles entering Manhattan must have at least three occupants appeared to cut down on traffic in the city, but enforcement of the directive caused problems elsewhere.
At the approach to the Lincoln Tunnel, traffic from New Jersey was restricted to a single lane and cars with fewer than three people were being diverted, causing a backup that jammed the state's northern highways.
"Safety is our paramount concern, not convenience," Mayor Michael Bloomberg said Thursday in defending his order.
In downtown Brooklyn, "easily a thousand people, possibly more" were in line at the Barclay's Center Thursday morning waiting for public buses, NBC 4 New York reporter Kai Simonsen said from his helicopter viewpoint.
That led some people to try to hitchhike their way into Manhattan, with drivers eager to pick them up to make the three-person-per-car quota.
"Some folks offered me a ride," said Melanie Bower, 30, who lives in Fort Greene. "I was touched by their kindness at first. But then I realized they just needed me so they could have three in their car.”
Bower walked into Manhattan instead, and then caught a bus uptown.
Related: Photoblog of the commuter chaos
Wednesday evening's commute out of the city was bad as well, leading Gov. Andrew Cuomo to declare that subway, bus and commuter rail services would be free Thursday and Friday.
TODAY's Natalie Morales reports from Hoboken, N.J., where chilling new images capture communities utterly destroyed; meanwhile, thousands still remain trapped in the region without water, power or heat.
After suffering the worst disaster in its 108-year-old history, subway services resumed at 6 a.m. ET Thursday on more than a dozen lines, supplemented by three bus shuttles.
“There will be no subway service between 34th St. in Midtown and Downtown Brooklyn,” the MTA website said.
Across the city, the scene remained chaotic:
LaGuardia Airport was re-opening but several hundred flights at the region's airports were canceled Thursday.
Taxis started pulling vehicles off the road as the fuel crunch deepened, with the vast majority of storm-hit gas stations in the greater New York area now out of gasoline or power to run pumps. Open stations have lines with several hundred cars as well as individuals toting jugs to refuel generators.
Liberty and Ellis islands sustained serious damage, a source at the National Park Service told NBCNewYork.com. "The infrastructure is shot," the source said, adding that the docks and grounds were in "bad shape." While the Statue of Liberty and the museum at its base were OK, the source said, it would likely be "quite a while" before the islands reopen.
Downtown Manhattan was still mostly an urban landscape of shuttered bodegas and boarded-up restaurants, where people roamed in search of food, power and a hot shower.
The Staten Island Railway service was still suspended due to “extensive damage” there.
In Jersey City, across the Hudson River from New York, drivers negotiated intersections without the aid of traffic lights. Lines formed outside pharmacies, while people piled sodden mattresses and furniture on sidewalks. The city has issued a curfew on people as well as a driving ban from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m.
Power was still out to 4.5 million homes and businesses in 14 states -- and 3.2 million of those were in New Jersey and New York.
Five massive U.S. military C-5s and 12 C-17s were flying 61 electrical repair vehicles from California to New York on Thursday to help stressed line crews.
The remnants of Sandy, meanwhile, dissipated over Canada. But the storm system, which killed at least 63 people in the U.S., could still dump yet more snow in the Appalachians.
“The last of its effects are winding down along the Appalachian Mountains,” the National Weather Service said, adding that several more inches of snow were possible in some areas of West Virginia and Maryland. “The cleanup can begin.”
In the wake of the superstorm, people are banding together across New York City and New Jersey, offering power, food and even Halloween fun to their neighbors who have been devastated by wind and floods. NBC's Jenna Bush Hager reports.
On New York's Long Island, where 90 percent of homes were still without power, bulldozers scooped sand off streets and tow trucks hauled away destroyed cars, while residents tried to find a way to their homes to restart their lives.
Joanne and Richard Kalb used a rowboat to reach their home in Mastic Beach, filled with 3 feet of water, the Associated Press reported. Her husband, exasperated by the futility of their effort, posted a sign on a telephone pole, asking drivers to slow down: "Slow please no wake."
In New Jersey, President Barack Obama joined Republican Gov. Chris Christie on Wednesday to tour the ravaged coast and promised to get the cleanup moving.
"We are here for you," Obama said in Brigantine, N.J. "We are not going to tolerate red tape. We are not going to tolerate bureaucracy."
The president resumed campaigning Thursday after a three-day hiatus due to the storm.
Most of Sandy's flood waters on New York City's streets have receded, but much of the water beneath the streets remains trapped. TODAY's Savannah Guthrie met with Roger Less of the Army Corps of Engineers to talk about the task of drying out the underground.
Full coverage of Sandy from NBC News
Signs of the good life that had defined wealthy shorefront enclaves like Bayhead and Mantoloking lay scattered and broken: $3,000 barbecue grills buried beneath the sand and hot tubs cracked and filled with seawater, the Associated Press reported.
Nearly all the homes were seriously damaged, and many had entirely disappeared.
"This," said Harry Typaldos, who owns the Grenville Inn in Mantoloking, "I just can't comprehend."
Most of New Jersey's mass transit systems remained shut down, leaving hundreds of thousands of commuters braving clogged highways and quarter-mile lines at gas stations.
Slideshow: Sandy slams into East Coast
Superstorm Sandy made landfall Monday evening on a destructive and deadly path across the Northeast.
Atlantic City's casinos remained closed.
Christie postponed Halloween until Monday, saying trick-or-treating wasn't safe in towns with flooded and darkened streets, fallen trees and downed power lines.
Farther north in Hoboken, just across the Hudson River from Manhattan, nearly 20,000 residents remained stranded in their homes, amid accusations that officials have been slow to deliver food and water.
One man blew up an air mattress and floated to City Hall, demanding to know why supplies hadn't gotten out, the Associated Press reported.
At least one-fourth of the city's residents are flooded and 90 percent are without power.
The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.