Hurricane Irene Knocks Out Power for Almost 1 Million New Yorkers; City Recovers from Storm Damage

NY Daily News - August 30, 2011

by Erin Einhorn, Pete Donohue and Corky Siemaszko DAILY NEWS STAFF WRITERS

Mayor Bloomberg declared New York was up and running again Monday after Hurricane Irene gave everybody "a weekend to remember."

"It was a storm that obviously could have turned out far worse," the mayor said.

Speaking just hours after the subway system sprang back to life and the Monday morning commute went off with barely a hitch, Bloomberg said it could be weeks before they tally up the city's storm costs.

Still, said Bloomberg, preparing for the worst was money well-spent.

"We were just unwilling to risk the life of a single New Yorker," he said at a Staten Island firehouse.

President Obama has already signed an emergency declaration making New York eligible for millions of dollars in federal disaster aid.

Irene killed at least 25 people in eight states on her merciless march up the East Coast, including a New Jersey woman who drowned in her car.

There was one city fatality reported. Jose Sierra, 68, was the victim of an "accidental drowning" after he went to a City Island marina Sunday to check on his boat, officials said.

Asked about the economic impact of the storm on city businesses, Bloomberg said it's likely to be a "mixed bag."

The run on emergency items like batteries and flashlights were a boon to some businesses and offset lost sales at stores closed Sunday by the storm.

"In the grand scheme of things, it isn't something that most people can't survive through," Bloomberg said.

Tell it to Tony Kokale, who owns Mark's Pizzeria in Red Hook, Brooklyn. He had four feet of water in his basement.

"Hopefully I can work something out with the landlord since I cleaned up down there," he said.

Bloomberg singled out for praise firefighters from Engine 166/Ladder 86, who rescued 61 adults and three children on Sunday from their flood homes near Staten Island's Willowbrook Park.

The mayor also gave kudos to transit workers, who got the subway trains running again by about 5:40 a.m. after the nearly two-day shutdown caused by Irene.

"People on my subway car this morning all had a big smile of their faces - they were relieved," Bloomberg said.

Bus service was restored on Sunday.

Jets and Giants fans hoping to take the NJTransit train out to the Meadowlands for the Monday night showdown were out of luck, but Coach USA was running extra buses.

It was not clear when NJTransit or Metro-North would return to normal service, but the Long Island Railroad and PATH trains were mostly back on track.

"Welcome back," said a smiling police officer near the World Trade Center worksite, greeting startled PATH riders crossing Church Street on Monday morning.

Wall Street and the rest of the Financial District reopened for business and the tourists returned. The U.S. Open got under way and Broadway shows shuttered for the weekend were expected to return to the stage Monday night.

But all was not well in Gotham.

Utility companies were still scrambling to deal with widespread power failures. At its peak, Irene left 174,000 customers in the city and Westchester County in the dark.

As of Monday, Con Edison said 38,553 homes and businesses in the city were still without power.

Queens had the most remaining outages with 25,199, including a number of businesses in Howard Beach.

"We had to throw away food," said Javier Llera, manager of Primo Pasta on Cross Bay Blvd. "We can only hope for electricity."

In Brooklyn, 4,203 customers were still without power. There were also 7,164 customers in Staten Island and 1,985 in the Bronx without juice. Just two customers were still without power in Manhattan.

Statewide, more than 936,000 customers lost power, including 460,000 on Long Island. In New Jersey, 200,000 people were still without power and PSE&G warned it could take up to six days before their service is restored.

Many of the power failures were due to downed trees.

"We've also received reports of more than something close to 2,000 trees downed or split or uprooted - roughly half of them are in Queens, Bloomberg said.

All the newly planted trees at the World Trade Center site surivived the storm, Bloomberg said.

Low-lying neighborhoods in Queens, Brooklyn and on Manhattan's West Side that experienced some flooding over the weekend were drying out fast and most were streets passable Monday.

While Irene was downgraded to a tropical storm by the time it hit the city, it still dumped seven inches of rain, making this the wettest August in city history.

Wind speeds of 52 mph were recorded at LaGuardia Airport, the National Weather Service said.

Four other deaths in New York State were blamed on Irene, including a Rockland County man electrocuted while helping a child on a flooded street with downed wires.

With Kevin Deutsch, Lillian Rizzo, Henrick Karoliszyn , Alison Gendar and Larry McShane.