New York lashed by wind and snow

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By Daniel Trotta And Barbara Goldberg

New York - New York City and much of the US Northeast on Thursday dug out from a snowstorm that hammered a region still struggling to recover from the devastation of superstorm Sandy, now estimated to cost $50-billion.

The unseasonably early winter storm dumped more than a 30cm of snow on parts of Connecticut on Wednesday and slapped the region with 80km/h winds, plunging 300 000 homes and businesses back into darkness.

Bitter cold, rain, snow and powerful winds added to the misery of disaster victims whose homes were destroyed or power was knocked out by Sandy, which smashed ashore on October 29 and caused widespread flooding.

The snowstorm created another commuting nightmare for a region whose transportation system was already under repair because of the hurricane.

“God hates us!” the New York Post said in a front-page headline. Between 8cm and 15cm of snow fell on the city, which enjoyed dry, sunny weather on Thursday.

The storms have also battered New Jersey's shore, a summer tourist haven where hundreds of beach-front homes were destroyed by Sandy's record storm surge.

“I thought I was lucky when power was restored last Thursday, but last night it went out again,” said Michael Platt, 49, an electrician from Toms River, New Jersey, who estimated a foot of snow fell in his area. “The kids have been home for nearly two weeks and I'm not working, and when I'm not working I'm not making any money. This hasn't been easy.”

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, who said estimates put the damage and economic loss for the region at $50-billion including $33-billion in New York state, turned his ire on the power utilities, which he said had failed consumers by taking so long to restore electricity.

Some 715 000 homes and businesses in the region were without power, a net increase of nearly 43 000 from Wednesday night after the nor'easter knocked it out to more customers following those who had lost it from Sandy, the US Energy Department said. Most of the 300 000 snowstorm power outages had been restored.

The storm damage exposed deep flaws in the structure and regulation of power utilities that will require a complete redesign, said Cuomo, who oversees the state-controlled utilities and appoints the members of the Public Service Commission, which regulates investor-owned utilities such as Consolidated Edison.

“This is a 1950s system with these utilities that are regulated by the state theoretically. But they are bureaucracies that are in many ways a monopoly,” said Cuomo, frequently mentioned as a possible presidential aspirant in 2016. “It is nameless, faceless bureaucracy that is a monopoly that operates with very little incentive or sanction. They have failed the consumers.”

Sandy's death toll in the United States and Canada reached 121 after New York authorities on Wednesday reported another death linked to the storm in the hard-hit coastal neighbourhood of the Rockaways, a barrier island facing the Atlantic Ocean.

“Can you believe this? Enough is enough,” said Cindy Casey, whose Belle Harbor home one block from the beach in the Rockaways was swamped by Sandy, as she looked out at the snow blanketing the neighbourhood devastated by flooding and fire.

Sandy surrounded Casey's home with two metres of water and sparked a fire that destroyed at least 20 houses in the neighbourhood before stopping short of her own.

“I said, 'I'm going to die’,” said Casey, who does not know how to swim but vows to learn. “It was non-stop. I just felt hopeless. There was nothing I could do. At least I still have a house.”

Commuter bus and train services were disrupted by the snowstorm, with the Long Island Rail Road briefly shutting down all operations to the city's eastern suburbs on Wednesday night.

New York City on Friday will open a vehicle tunnel linking midtown Manhattan to Queens, which would restore all of Manhattan's bridges and tunnels except for the tunnel linking lower Manhattan to Brooklyn.

All of the region's major airports experienced cancelled flights and delays on Wednesday from the storm, and gasoline remained in short supply. Four companies told the United States they intended to take advantage of a rare waiver allowing them to use foreign-flagged ships to transport oil products to the storm-hit region. - Reuters

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