NEW YORK (AP) — Two days after superstorm Sandy brought New York to a standstill, residents itching to get back to work and their old lives noticed small signs that the city might be getting back to — well, not quite normal.
On the Brooklyn Bridge, closed a day earlier because of high winds, joggers and bikers made their way across while it was still dark, one cyclist carrying a flashlight. Car traffic was brisk but slowed as it neared lower Manhattan, where power was still largely out.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg planned to ring the opening bell at the New York Stock Exchange, reopening it after two days.
Perhaps most promising, though, was the people waiting at bus stops — a sign that mass transit was trying to resume even as the subway system and some vehicle tunnels remained crippled by Sandy’s record storm surge.
But there was little false hope.
“Clearly, the challenges our city faces in the coming days are enormous,” Mayor Michael Bloomberg said Tuesday as officials warned that power might not be back until the weekend for hundreds of thousands of people accustomed to their cosmopolitan lives.
While some bus service resumed and some bridges reopened, transit officials said they couldn’t predict when the subway would run again after suffering the worst damage in its 108-year history.
The storm’s deadly impact grew grimly clearer as the worst of it moved off: The death toll rose to 22 in the city, including two people who drowned in a home and one who was in bed when a tree fell on an apartment.
A fire destroyed as many as 100 houses in a flooded beachfront neighborhood in Queens, while firefighters used boats to rescue people in chest-high water.
Faced with the prospect of days without power and swaths of the city plunged into darkness at night, police brought in banks of lights and boosted patrols to reassure victims of a monster storm that they won’t be victims of crime.
Some prominent galleries in Manhattan’s Chelsea neighborhood hired private security and apartment building superintendents suddenly became guards. In Coney Island, about 100 police officers stood on corners or cruised in cars to guard a strip of vandalized stores and a damaged bank, to the relief of shaken residents.
“We’re feeling OK, but at first we felt worried,” 12-year-old Oleg Kharitmov said Tuesday as he walked his dog with his parents by the bank. “I’m pretty happy that the cops are here.”
There was little sign of a crime wave, although police made multiple arrests in the city Monday and Tuesday, officials said. Charges included burglary, criminal mischief and trespassing. In one incident, three men were arrested on burglary charges after they struck a Radio Shack in Rockaway Beach, Queens, on Tuesday morning.
As night fell, nerves frayed.
Yvique Bastien waited outside an apartment complex with her two sons, her daughter, 4-month old grandchild and a pushcart full of supplies, hoping to get a ride to a relative’s home from a member of her church. With the power out, it wasn’t safe to stay, she said.
“We don’t know what can happen to us,” she said.
In Chelsea, residents strolled down darkening streets with no lights, while traffic police tried to manage major intersections.
Roberto Pineta stood in front of the apartment building where he works as superintendent, saying he took it upon himself to keep residents safe by sitting in a chair inside the front entrance, day and night, sleeping only a few hours at a time. Candles lit the entrance to a nearby apartment building where another superintendent and his staff were putting in extra hours while power is out.
“It’s a little disconcerting to be in the dark, but I feel safe — these guys are great,” Stacey Vuolo said as she headed to her brother-in-law’s nearby apartment, which at least had cold water for a shower.
Bloomberg promised “a very heavy police presence” in the darkened neighborhoods, which include much of Manhattan south of the Empire State Building, from the East River to the Hudson River. Even outside the blackout areas, police deployed vans and patrol cars with their roof lights on, along with officers on the streets in a robust show of force.
For the 8 million people who live here, the city was a different place one day after being battered by the megastorm — a combination of Hurricane Sandy, a wintry storm and a blast of arctic air.
Schools were shut for a second day and were closed Wednesday, too. And people inside and outside the city scrambled to find ways to get to work.
Traffic volume appeared to have doubled Wednesday morning in lower Manhattan from the day before, yet there were few signs, if any, that traffic was being directed by police through intersections with darkened stoplights.
The city modified its taxi rules and encouraged drivers to pick up more than one passenger at a time, putting New Yorkers in the otherwise unthinkable position of having to share a ride with a stranger.
Jeff Storey, of Goshen in the Hudson Valley north of the city, is a regular on the Metro-North Railroad and has been forced to work from home this week. He may have to switch to a bus until commuter rail service is running again, he told the Times-Herald Record of Middletown.
Problems with high-voltage systems caused by the storm forced the utility to cut power Tuesday night to about 160,000 additional customers in Brooklyn and Staten Island.
Consolidated Edison, the power company, estimated it would be four days before the last of the 323,000 customers in Manhattan and Brooklyn who lost power have electricity again. For the Bronx, Queens, Staten Island and Westchester County, with more than 450,000 outages, it could take a week.