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October 31, 2012

Airports and stock exchange reopen; NJ devastated

NEW YORK — Two major airports reopened and the floor of the New York Stock Exchange came back to life Wednesday, while across the river in New Jersey, National Guardsmen rushed to rescue flood victims and fires still raged two days after Superstorm Sandy.

For the first time since the storm battered the Northeast, killing at least 59 people and doing billions of dollars in damage, brilliant sunshine washed over the nation's largest city — a striking sight after days of gray skies, rain and wind.

At the stock exchange, running on generator power, Mayor Michael Bloomberg gave a thumbs-up and rang the opening bell to whoops from traders on the floor. Trading resumed after the first two-day weather shutdown since the Blizzard of 1888.

Kennedy and Newark Liberty airports reopened with limited service just after 7 a.m. New York's LaGuardia Airport, which suffered far worse damage and where water covered parts of runways, remained closed.

It was clear that restoring the region to its ordinarily frenetic pace could take days — and that rebuilding the hardest-hit communities and the transportation networks that link them together could take considerably longer.

About 6.5 million homes and businesses were still without power, including 4 million in New York and New Jersey. Electricity was out as far west as Wisconsin and as far south as the Carolinas.

The scale of the challenge could be seen across the Hudson River in New Jersey, where National Guard troops arrived in the heavily flooded city of Hoboken to help evacuate thousands still stuck in their homes and deliver ready-to-eat meals. Live wires dangled in floodwaters that Mayor Dawn Zimmer said were rapidly mixing with sewage.

Thousands of people were still holed up in their brownstones, condos, and other homes in the mile-square city is across the Hudson River from New York.

And new problems arose when firefighters were unable to reach blazes rekindled by natural gas leaks in the heavily hit shore town of Mantoloking. More than a dozen homes were destroyed.

President Barack Obama planned to visit Atlantic City, N.J., which was directly in the storm's path Monday night and where part of the historic boardwalk washed away.

Gov. Chris Christie said he plans to ask the president to assign the Army Corps of Engineers to work on how to rebuild beaches and find "the best way to rebuild the beach to protect these towns."

Outages in the state's two largest cities, Newark and Jersey City, left traffic signals dark, resulting in fender-benders at intersections where police were not directing traffic. At one Jersey City supermarket, there were long lines to get bread and use an electrical outlet to charge cellphones.

Amid the despair, talk of recovery was already beginning.

"It's heartbreaking after being here 37 years," Barry Prezioso of Point Pleasant, N.J., said as he returned to his house in the beachfront community to survey the damage. "You see your home demolished like this, it's tough. But nobody got hurt and the upstairs is still livable, so we can still live upstairs and clean this out. I'm sure there's people that had worse. I feel kind of lucky."

As New York began its second day after the megastorm, morning rush-hour traffic was heavy as people started returning to work. There was even a sign of normalcy: commuters waiting at bus stops. School was out for a third day.

The Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel, connecting Brooklyn to Manhattan, and the Holland Tunnel, between New York and New Jersey, remained closed. But bridges into the city were open, and city buses were running, free of charge.

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