Falling temperatures on Sunday put more people at risk in a region already battling gasoline shortages, stubborn power outages and spasms of lawlessness in the wake of Superstorm Sandy.
With temperatures in the 30s and more than 700,000 people still without power in the area, some who were planning to run in the canceled New York City Marathon instead headed to Staten Island on Sunday morning to volunteer to help storm victims.
Other disappointed runners staged impromptu races of their own. Thousands poured into Central Park shortly after dawn including teams of runners from Italy, Germany and Spain who began running their own personal marathons. A little more than four laps around the park will do it.
It’s a throwback to the beginning of New York’s marathon, which was run inside the park.
“A lot of people just want to finish what they’ve started,” said Lance Svendsen, the organizer of a group called Run Anyway.
New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg was reluctant to plunge back into the controversy over the last-minute cancellation. He put off questions about the marathon at a Saturday briefing and focused on what he said were more pressing matters.
“I spoke with many people who were worried and frustrated and cold,” Bloomberg said. “There is no power there and temperatures are dropping. Even those who have generators are having a hard time getting fuel.”
The city opened warming shelters in areas without power and Bloomberg was urging older residents without heat to move to them. The city also was handing out 25,000 blankets to residents who insist on staying in powerless homes.
“So please, I know sometimes people are reticent to take advantage of services. The cold really is something that is dangerous,” he said after a visit to the Rockaways section of Queens. Federal officials including Federal Emergency Management Agency director Craig Fugate and Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano were to tour parts of the region Sunday.
Though New York and New Jersey bore the brunt of the destruction, at its peak, the storm reached 1,000 miles across, killed more than 100 people in 10 states, knocked out power to 8.5 million and canceled nearly 20,000 flights. More than 12 inches of rain fell in Easton, Md., and 34 inches of snow fell in Gatlinburg, Tenn. Economic damage was estimated at $50 billion, putting the storm among the most expensive disasters in the U.S.
Among the biggest lingering challenges Saturday was the gas shortage. Bloomberg said that resolving it could take days. Lines curled around gas stations for many blocks all over the stricken region, including northern New Jersey, where Gov. Chris Christie imposed rationing that recalled the worst days of fuel shortages of the 1970s. Queues of honking cars, frustrated drivers and people on foot carrying containers were just the latest testament to the misery unleashed by Sandy.
“It’s chaos; it’s pandemonium out here,” said Chris Damon, who had been waiting for 3½ hours at a site where the National Guard was giving out free gas in an effort to alleviate the situation. “It seems like nobody has any answers.”
After at least 10 arrests for line jumping on Friday, the police presence at stations with gas lines was increased Saturday. Still, there was one arrest for disorderly conduct at the armory in Brooklyn, where free gasoline was being distributed.
And fears about crime, especially at night in darkened neighborhoods, persisted. Officers in the Midland Beach section of Staten Island early Saturday saw a man in a Red Cross jacket checking the front doors of unoccupied houses and arrested him on a burglary charge. After complaints about people posing as utility workers to gain access to people’s homes, police on Long Island reminded residents that most repair work will be done outside so legitimate workers usually have no need to enter a home.
More than 2.2 million customers remained without power in several states after Sandy came ashore Monday night.
About 875,000 still don’t have electricity in the New York metropolitan area, including about 460,000 on Long Island. About 80 percent of New York City’s subway service has been restored.
New York City’s parks also reopened Saturday, and with Sunday’s marathon canceled, many of the runners who had come to town for the race worked out their frustrations with a jog through Central Park, the site of the finish line that won’t be used. A Facebook page invited runners to meet Sunday in the park for a 26.2 mile run and encouraged marathoners to bring food, clothes or money to donate to storm victims.
Bloomberg reversed himself Friday and yielded to mounting criticism about running the race, which starts on hard-hit Staten Island and winds through all five of the city’s boroughs.
In his first comments since canceling the marathon, Bloomberg said he’d fought to keep it going but the controversy was becoming “so divisive” and too much of a distraction.
Many runners understood the decision, especially with the death toll from the storm at 107, including 41 in New York City.
Associated Press writers Ben Nuckols in Wall, N.J.; Katie Zezima in Jersey City, N.J.; and Verena Dobnik, AJ Connelly, Cara Anna and Larry Neumeister in New York contributed to this report.
Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.