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Sandy survivors push toward normalcy and search for the missing

By CNN's Tom Watkins and Chelsea J. Carter
November 2, 2012 -- Updated 0301 GMT (1101 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Superstorm Sandy deaths reach 157 overall, including at least 88 in the U.S.
  • Nearly a half-million New York City customers are still without power
  • The New York City Marathon is still scheduled for Sunday
  • Despite hobbled transit, commuters go to work

Have you been affected by Superstorm Sandy? If so, share your images and footage with CNN iReport, but please stay safe. For minute-by-minute updates, go to our live blog on This Just In.

(CNN) -- The death toll mounted Thursday as survivors struggled to regain a semblance of the normalcy that Superstorm Sandy swept away this week when it struck the Northeast.

In some cases, tempers grew short.

"We're gonna die down here!" wailed Donna Solli to Sen. Chuck Schumer as he toured her waterlogged neighborhood in New York's Staten Island with a group of reporters. "When is the government coming?"

Solli said residents needed gas, food and clothes. "We're gonna freeze," she said on a day when the 50-degree temperature was predicted to drop to the low 40s. "We've got 90-year-old people!"

The Democratic senator from New York said he understood and hugged her.

Solli said her basement was flooded and her refrigerator was upside down. "I stayed here because I have an elderly dog," she told a reporter. "We nearly drowned."

Solli added that she had had little to eat. "One slice of pizza in 48 hours."

As he surveyed the damage in the neighborhood, the politician told a reporter, "This is the worst thing I've ever seen, and it's killing me what these people have to go through. We'll get whatever federal help we can, that's for sure."

Afterward, a senior administration official told CNN that a convoy of 10 Red Cross trucks filled with food, water and medicine arrived Thursday evening on Staten Island.

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Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano and FEMA Deputy Administrator Richard Serino were to travel Friday to Staten Island to meet with state and local officials and view the response and recovery efforts, the White House said.

Some people were not complaining.

About 90 miles north of Staten Island, the mayor of Danbury, Connecticut, Mark D. Boughton, was visiting a special-needs shelter on Wednesday night when he met a 106-year-old woman who had cancer and was in hospice.

"She's happy to be alive," he tweeted. "Every day is a gift."

Contacted by telephone, Boughton said the cheerfulness of the lifelong resident of Danbury had inspired him. "The essence of it was, look, you gotta make each day count," he said. "You don't know when your time comes."

In Sandy's wake, at least 157 people died, at least 88 of them in the United States, two in Canada and 67 in the Caribbean.

Among them were two children whose bodies were found Thursday. The boys, ages 2 and 4, had been riding with their mother, Glenda Moore, on Staten Island when the storm surge swamped their SUV, authorities said.

Police said Moore gave them this account: When her Ford Explorer was blown into a hole, she got out, took out her children and carried them to a nearby tree. There, she held on to the boys, Brandon and Connor, as rain poured and hurricane-strength winds gusted. After hours, she walked with her children to a nearby house to seek help. A man opened the door but refused to let them in. Desperate, she went to his back porch and threw a flower pot at the window in an attempt to get inside. But she was not able to do so. Meanwhile, her children were swept away.

Their bodies were found nearby on Thursday.

Relatives said Moore was too distraught to speak with CNN.

The owner of the house, who asked that he not be identified, disputed Moore's account, saying he saw only a man. "He didn't come to the door, he came on the stairs at the back of the house, and he was standing at the bottom of the stairs," said the man. "He took a concrete flower pot and threw it through the door."

The man at the door, he said, didn't ask to enter the house, but instead asked the owner of the house to leave it in order to help.

"What could I do to help him?" he asked. "I'm wearing the same clothes ... the same shorts and flip-flops I had that night. And I was going to come out?"

Cleaning crews work in Manhattan's financial district following damage from Superstorm Sandy on Monday, November 12. View photos of New York's recovery. Cleaning crews work in Manhattan's financial district following damage from Superstorm Sandy on Monday, November 12. View photos of New York's recovery.
Aftermath of Superstorm Sandy
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Photos: Aftermath of Superstorm Sandy Photos: Aftermath of Superstorm Sandy

The man told CNN he sat up for the rest of the night, with his back against the door in the kitchen. He said the deaths were a tragedy, but that the woman was at fault. "She shouldn't have been out," he continued. "She shouldn't have been out on the road."

There was nothing he could have done, he added. "I'm not a rescue worker ... If I would have been outside, I would have been dead."

Interactive: Remembering the victims

Sandy claimed at least 37 lives in New York City, Mayor Michael Bloomberg told reporters Thursday.

Victims fall to Mother Nature's wrath

Authorities in nine states worked to restore basic services such as public transit and electricity.

In New York City, nearly 500,000 customers were without power. In Manhattan, many of the 220,000 customers without electricity were south of Midtown's 34th Street. Parts of Queens and Staten Island also had no electricity Thursday. "Restoring power will take a lot of time," the mayor said.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo, in a letter to utilities, warned of consequences if authorities discover that they failed to prepare properly. "Under such circumstances, I would direct the Public Service Commission to commence a proceeding to revoke your certificates," he wrote.

That message was not lost on its intended targets. "We're doing our damnedest to get our power back as quickly as possible," said John Miksad, senior vice president of electric operations at Con Ed.

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New York's vast transit network remains hobbled. The Metropolitan Transit Authority said 14 of the city's 23 subway lines were running and a flotilla of 4,000 buses was attempting to take up the slack. For some, Thursday's commute into Manhattan from the outer boroughs took five hours.

Bloomberg predicted that would ease as tunnels are cleared of water, power is restored to subway lines and ferries resume service.

Electricity or not: Tale of two cities

Getting water out of the tunnels is "one of the main orders of business right now," Cuomo said.

Broadway theaters reopened Thursday, and organizers vowed to hold the New York City Marathon as scheduled on Sunday. Event organizer Mary Wittenberg said the race wouldn't divert resources from the recovery.

Sandy's effects, state by state

Three days after Sandy barreled ashore in southern New Jersey, search-and-rescue crews were going door-to-door in some neighborhoods looking for people, particularly the elderly, who may have been stranded by the power outages, the debris and remaining floodwater.

Sandy killed at least six people in New Jersey, said Gov. Chris Christie, who had warned people in low-lying areas to evacuate.

Dangling crane secure, engineers say

Christie asked for patience as crews worked to restore electricity to more than 2 million power company customers.

The federal government shipped 1 million meals Thursday to New York, where National Guard troops were distributing them to people in need, Cuomo told reporters.

Mobile networks team up to help

The storm dumped up to 3 feet of snow in West Virginia and Maryland, leaving thousands without power.

Nearly 3.5 million customers across the eastern United States were still in the dark Thursday, down from nearly 8 million in its immediate aftermath.

How to help

By Thursday, Sandy's remnants had headed into Canada.

The National Weather Service predicted a nor'easter next week from the mid-Atlantic states into New England. But the forecast said the storm would be far weaker than Sandy.

CNN's Chelsea J. Carter, Tom Watkins, Joe Sterling and Melissa Gray contributed to this report.

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