Sandy's death toll climbs in US, power outages widespread

Sandy's death toll climbs in US, power outages widespread

Restoring energy to stricken households and providing food and shelter to displaced people were the key priorities of relief efforts Thursday in a multistate area of the north-eastern US in the aftermath of the superstorm Sandy, DPA reported.

The death toll in the US alone has climbed to 80, bringing to more than 140 killed by Hurricane Sandy since it swept across the Caribbean, including Haiti and Cuba, starting late last week.

Rescue workers in New York City continued to comb destroyed neighbourhoods in the hopes of finding people still alive. The death toll in the city alone was 38, according to The New York Times. Two of the dead identified Thursday were boys age 2 and 4, who were swept away from their mother on Monday by rushing water.

Frustrations grew on Thursday over three-hour lines to tank up on petrol and limited public transport in New York City.

New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg inserted climate change into the storm aftermath and next week's presidential elections, endorsing Democrat US President Barack Obama as the best candidate to tackle the planet's rising temperatures.

"Our climate is changing," he wrote. "And while the increase in extreme weather we have experienced in New York City and around the world may or may not be the result of it, the risk that it may be - given the devastation it is wreaking - should be enough to compel all elected leaders to take immediate action."

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) was coordinating with the American Red Cross and other relief organizations to provide food, water and shelter to the tens of thousands of people in 16 states affected by the massive storm, officials with the two organizations said.

The emphasis was on returning electrical power to millions of households, said FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate.

"In New Jersey, New York and Connecticut we are very much moving into a mass care operation," said Fugate in a conference call with reporters. Restoring electricity, water and cleaning up were the agency's top priorities, he said.

The Department of Energy said 4.4 million customers in 12 states were still without power, most of them in New York and New Jersey.

The American Red Cross also is active in the region, providing meals, shelter and other services, said Charley Shimanski, Red Cross senior vice president of disaster services. The organization set up hundreds of shelters in nine states and dispatched 12 mobile kitchens capable of preparing 200,000 meals per day.

"Feeding (people) is going to be our primary purpose as we move into the next 48 hours," said Shimanski, adding that the organization, which is supported by a cadre of volunteers, had already served 165 million meals throughout the disaster zone.

Approximately 7,000 people were in Red Cross shelters. FEMA was helping people find temporary housing in rental units and hotels.

How to pay for the recovery also moved to the forefront as the White House ordered federal aid to supplement state and local recovery efforts. FEMA has 3.6 billion dollars on hand to pay for the federal response to the storm. Insurance industry estimates have put total damages as high at 50 billion dollars.

The Obama administration has approved 100 per cent federal coverage for emergency public transit and power restoration for New York City and state. Normally, the government covers only 75 per cent of damages.

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie said several other states were sending thousands of emergency workers to New Jersey to help get electricity restored and help with other recovery efforts.

Christie said the natural gas line running through the state's barrier islands had been turned off as a safety precaution and would have to be completely rebuilt.

As the cost of the storm was being calculated, donations were coming in from prominent people and businesses. The Red Cross has received 11 million dollars since the storm struck Monday.

Media mogul Rupert Murdoch, owner of two major newspapers in New York - the New York Post and Wall Street Journal - made a significant donation, as did the automobile companies Toyota, Ford and Volkswagen.

A one-hour telethon was planned for to raise money for victims of the storm. The programme will be broadcast live from Rockefeller Center at 8 pm (0000 GMT Friday). Several stars were to perform, including Bruce Springsteen, Billy Joel and Jon Bon Jovi, all of whom have ties to the New York and New Jersey.

The lower third of the island of Manhattan - roughly the area south of the Empire State Building - was still without electricity. It took the brunt of a 4-metre sea surge blown in by the storm. The area includes the construction site at Ground Zero, where the new World Trade Centre is being built.

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