NEW YORK: New York City and the sodden US Northeast began an arduous journey back to normal on Wednesday after mammoth storm Sandy killed at least 64 people in a rampage that swamped coastal cities and cut power to millions.
Financial markets reopened with the New York Stock Exchange running on generator power after the first weather-related two-day closure since an 1888 blizzard. Packed buses took commuters to work with New York's subway system idle after seawater flooded its tunnels.
President Barack Obama, who has halted campaigning with the election six days away, set aside political differences with New Jersey Republican Governor Chris Christie for a helicopter tour of the devastated coast, where they saw flooded and sand-swept neighborhoods and burning homes.
"The entire country's been watching. Everyone knows how hard Jersey has been hit," Obama told residents at an evacuation shelter in the town of Brigantine.
"We're not going to tolerate any red tape. We're not going to tolerate any bureaucracy," he said of the relief effort.
The US Navy said it was moving ships closer to areas affected by the disaster in case they might be needed, including the helicopter carrier USS Wasp.
Sandy killed 69 people in the Caribbean as a hurricane before crashing ashore with 80 mile-per-hour winds on Monday as a rare hybrid superstorm after merging with another system. It was the largest storm by area to hit the United States in generations.
Sandy was likely to rank as one of the costliest storms in US history. One disaster-modeling firm said Sandy may have caused up to $15 billion in insured losses.
Long road to recovery
About six million homes and businesses in 15 US states remained without power on Wednesday, down from a high of nearly 8.5 million, which surpassed the record 8.4 million customers who went dark from last year's Hurricane Irene.
As markets reopened, floodwaters receded and residents went back to work by car, bicycle and bus in New York, the country's most populous city suffered some setbacks. Damage forced evacuation of Bellevue Hospital, known for psychiatric and emergency care.
Five hundred patients were being moved, Mayor Michael Bloomberg said. Evacuations of four other hospitals and 17 chronic-care facilities had already been ordered.
An evacuation order for 375,000 New Yorkers in low-lying areas remained in effect. With subways down, the mayor said cars must have at least three passengers to enter Manhattan.
Across the Hudson River in Hoboken, New Jersey, water that reached chest high on Monday was knee high on Wednesday morning.
"I thought it was the end. I kept telling my sons to pray," said Marcelina Rosario, 47, who was trapped in the second floor of her Hoboken apartment. "Everything happened so fast. The water started coming up, the refrigerator was floating."
More than half of the gas stations in the New York City area and New Jersey were closed due to power outages and depleted fuel supplies, frustrating attempts to restore normal life, industry officials said.
Tempers flared and horns blared in a line of some 30 cars at a Getty service station in Gowanus in the New York City borough of Brooklyn. "I don't have any lights and need this gasoline for my generator," said Abdul Rahim Anwar as he put two full jerry cans into his trunk.
Fuel spilled from a northern New Jersey oil facility shut down by Sandy, according to Motiva, the site's operator. NBC, citing the US Coast Guard, said 300,000 gallons of diesel had been released and 200 people were working on the cleanup.
The New York area's John F. Kennedy and Newark airports reopened after thousands of flights had been canceled, leaving travelers stuck for days. LaGuardia, a third major airport, was scheduled to reopen on Thursday.
Limited New York subway service was due to start on Thursday, four days after the system, with daily traffic of about 5.5 million people, shut down.
Brooklynite Matthew Gessler went to Breezy Point, the New York neighborhood where fire destroyed 111 homes, to inspect damage to his mother's house, and was disturbed by what he saw.
"Where the fire happened, you could honestly take that picture and say it was somewhere in the Middle East, like in Afghanistan, and no one would doubt you at all," Gessler said.
Queens District Attorney Richard Brown said more than a dozen people had been charged with theft and looting in connection with the storm for targeting businesses in the badly flooded Far Rockaway neighborhood of the New York City borough.
With six days to go before Tuesday's presidential election, Obama and Christie put aside politics to tour devastated areas together. The two boarded the president's Marine One helicopter and from the air saw wrecked piers, swamped beach homes and streets under water.
"We are here for you and we will not forget," Obama said.
Christie, a vocal backer of Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, has repeatedly praised Obama and the federal response to Sandy.
"I cannot thank the president enough for his personal concern and his compassion," Christie, known for his aggressive political style, said after the tour.
Obama was scheduled to resume his campaign on Thursday with visits to battleground states Nevada and Colorado. Romney, who had also canceled political rallies because of Sandy, limited his attacks on Obama while campaigning on Wednesday in Florida.
Christie issued an executive order moving his state's Halloween celebration to Monday, postponing trick-or-treating. Wednesday's Halloween parade through New York's Greenwich Village was postponed as well, but some parents in the suburbs held daytime gatherings for their costumed offspring in parks and parking lots.
The growing US death toll from the storm reached at least 64, with 30 people killed in New York state, nine in Maryland, and six each in New Jersey and Pennsylvania. Five other states reported fatalities.
Remnants of the storm were over Pennsylvania on Wednesday, forecasters said. Winter storm warnings were in effect along the central Appalachian mountains and flood watches and warnings were issued across New England and northern mid-Atlantic states.
Sunday's New York Marathon will go on as scheduled, but Thursday's National Basketball Association season-opening game between the New York Knicks and Brooklyn Nets was postponed.