Last updated: November 7, 2012 9:38 pm

Storm could bring more damage to NY and NJ

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With a nor’easter bearing down on New York and New Jersey, officials warned residents that high winds and a storm surge may cause further damage to areas already battered by last week’s Hurricane Sandy.

Snow fell across New York City on Wednesday, and the National Weather Service said the winter storm – named “Athena” by the Weather Channel – would be accompanied by wind gusts as high as 60mph and coastal flooding. Six to 12 inches of snowfall were forecast in parts of New England.

“What’s going on outside now makes it more uncomfortable and more dangerous,” New York mayor Michael Bloomberg said. “The real sad part is it’s coming on top of our efforts to recover from Sandy.”

The Long Island Rail Road suspended all services on Wednesday evening though it said some lines would resume limited service shortly while Metro-North suburban trains ran at slower speeds due to slippery tracks.

City parks, playgrounds and beaches were closed, construction work was halted, drivers were told to stay home and some nursing homes in the hard-hit Rockaways area of Queens were evacuated. The city held back from ordering mandatory evacuations of low-lying areas but encouraged residents who had suffered flooding last week to seek shelter, citing concerns about debris and weakened trees.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency temporarily closed its relief centres on Staten Island, the Rockaways, Coney Island and the Bronx, citing the safety of its staff. FlightAware, the air traffic tracking website, said 1,700 flights had been cancelled on Wednesday and Thursday.

Residents of New Jersey’s shore towns, many badly damaged by the hurricane, were ordered to leave, and Chris Christie, the state’s governor, warned that people may lose power once again.

“I can see us actually moving backwards,” he said at a briefing.

The new storm will be particularly hard on the hundreds of thousands of people still without power and heat more than a week after Sandy hit the region.

Some 22,000 customers lost power on Wednesday, the department of energy said, as outages rose to 670,000 in seven states. USA Today reported that the continued outage included a home shared by Andrew Cuomo, New York governor. The Associated Press also reported that Mr Cuomo had fired the state emergency management director for diverting workers to remove a tree that had fallen at his home during the last week’s storm.

In New York City, where 66,000 customers were still without power, Mr Bloomberg said 50 to 75 per cent of those face “a major hurdle” to restoring electricity, including the risk of salt water on wires or switches.

But even buildings without flood damage have seen long delays in getting power and steam heat turned back on.

Marissa Campise, who lives in Manhattan’s financial district, said she was planning to buy space heaters for her apartment, where the heat has been out since Sandy.

“They don’t know when it will come back up,” she said of Consolidated Edison, the electric utility. “There’s no damage to our building. I joined Equinox [the gym] today so I can take hot showers.”

The city has opened more than 200 warming centres during the day and said 11 emergency shelters were available for those in need. About 30 per cent of public housing residents are still without heat and hot water and 17 per cent do not have electricity, Mr Bloomberg said.

Officials have been scrambling to arrange longer-term housing for the thousands of people whose homes have been destroyed or made uninhabitable. Fema said on Wednesday it was increasing funds for rental assistance to displaced residents of New York and New Jersey by a quarter. The agency has received 295,000 registrations for federal aid and has dispersed almost $286m.

Meanwhile, Mr Bloomberg said the city’s fund for Sandy relief had raised more than $32m from private donors and corporations.

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