WASHINGTON/ NEW YORK, Oct 31: Thicker than usual traffic heralded the beginning of the first working day in New York as Hurricane Sandy weakened and moved over Canada, leaving a trail of deaths and destruction in north-eastern US.

So far, US officials have confirmed between 40 and 50 storm-related deaths, including 18 in New York, which was among the hardest hit.

Earlier on Wednesday, Mayor Michael Bloomberg reopened the New York Stock Exchange, after a rare two-day closure. The mayor said damage in the city was extensive.

Also on Wednesday, the US Navy moved three ships towards New York and New Jersey to be ready to act if the storm-struck states asked for help.

The federal government has already declared New Jersey and New York disaster-hit areas as they struggle to deal with severe flooding and power outages.

The USS Wasp is a landing helicopter assault ship that resembles a small aircraft carrier. The USS San Antonio and the USS Carter Hall offer similar facilities.

In New Jersey, where the storm made a landfall on Monday evening, President Barack Obama toured the affected areas with Governor Chris Christie, a firebrand opponent. The tour aims at sending the message that Republicans and Democrats are united to cope with the disaster.

The storm destroyed Atlantic City, devastated New York, shut down the federal government in Washington, forced Wall Street to close, and caused the cancellation of more than 12,000 flights. It also caused more than 7.5 million students to stay home as schools across East Coast closed.

But these happened on Monday and Tuesday. Wednesday was a different story.

A bright sun greeted more than 56 million East Coast residents as the region resumed its first working day after four weekend and storm-related offs.

In New York, rush-hour traffic was thicker than normal as a closed subway system forced people to rely on motor vehicles.

“The rush is unbelievable,” said a commuter, “bumper to bumper on all major roads”.

New York Mass Transit Authority says it may take them up to a week to restore the subway, a 108-year old train system which is also one of the world’s largest.

In Washington, where the Metro rail resumed after two days of storm, the road traffic was light. Fallen trees have closed some roads and side streets and forced people to rely on the Metro.

Officials in Washington are now preparing for a possible flood as one of the region’s largest rivers, Potomac, is overflowing with rainwater.

Officials have warned that the water level may rise up to 15 feet, highest ever, by Thursday when water from the surrounding hills fills the river.

In New York, some bridges that link the island-city to the mainland reopened on Wednesday. But the flooded Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel, connecting Brooklyn to Manhattan, and the Holland Tunnel, between New York and New Jersey, remained closed.City officials tried to compensate train commuters by offering free rides on buses to all citizens until the subway is restored.

New York’s three major international airports – including JFK, where flights from Pakistan, India and Bangladesh arrive, were reopened, too, but were not yet fully operational.

Across the Hudson River in New Jersey the prospect of a quick return to daily routines remains bleak.

On Wednesday afternoon, President Obama and New Jersey Governor Chris Christie began a two-hour aerial tour of damaged areas.

Although an outspoken critic of Mr Obama’s policies, Gov. Christie praised the president’s leadership during the hurricane. He also said it could be months before the state could recover from the “unthinkable” damage sustained in the storm.White House spokesman Jay Carney, who accompanied the president, declined to speculate how the storm might affect the election campaign. “This is not a time for politics,” he said.

Other north-eastern states, although not as badly hit as New Jersey, are also struggling to deal with Sandy’s aftermath. More than 6 million people in these states remain without electricity a day after the storm.

Thousands of shops along the eastern coastline have been washed away.

Many private businesses, damaged in the storm, also remain closed.

Various private agencies have estimated that the storm would cost approximately $20 billion in damage and between $10 and $30 billion in lost business. Flight cancellations will cost another $15 billion.

Ontario paralysed

After overwhelming the US East Coast, the storm passed over to Canada, bringing rain and gusty winds to southern Ontario and Quebec.

Although it weakened significantly before entering Canada, the storm caused ice rains and snow and brought down the temperature significantly.

On Wednesday morning, Environment Canada warned the wintry precipitation was likely to continue into the night across broad swath of north eastern Ontario.

Residents in some areas were reminded to keep their mobile phones charged and their three-day emergency supply stocked in the event Sandy’s remnants cause any more problems.

Most of the weather warnings issued ahead of Sandy’s arrival in Canada have, however, been cancelled.

In Toronto, a woman died after struck by a wind-blown sign.

Sandy also paralysed the province of Ontario, the most populated in Canada, causing power outages that forced 150,000 people to live in the dark. It also left more than 210 homes and businesses without power in Quebec and Nova Scotia. Gusty winds fell trees and demolished electrical posts.

Bad weather conditions also forced Air Canada, West Jet Airlines and Porter Airlines to cancel 150 flights at two airports in Toronto, considered the financial centre of the country. Schools were also closed for a day. The local government urged people to stay indoors.


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