by Carolyn Pesce and Elizabeth Weise, USA TODAY
Millions of people affected by Sandy began the difficult task of getting back to normal on Wednesday as the National Guard rescued thousands of trapped residents and fires still burned in New Jersey.
As the remnants of what was Hurricane Sandy disintegrated over western Pennsylvania, the New York Stock Exchange reopened, Amtrak began train service and airports along the Eastern Seaboard opened for business.
And while New York City buses returned to the streets and a huge line formed at the Empire State Building, it was clear that rebuilding the hardest-hit communities will take some time.
President Obama on Wednesday toured New Jersey, the hardest-hit state in the storm, with Gov. Chris Christie. 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."
Early Wednesday, fire broke out in the heavily hit shore town of Mantoloking, N.J. Firefighters were unable to reach the blazes rekindled by natural gas leaks. More than a dozen homes were destroyed.
New Jersey National Guard troops began distributing ready-to-eat meals on Wednesday and rescuing thousands of Hoboken, N.J., residents trapped in brownstones and condos for two days by the surging waters of the Hudson River. Troops in high-wheeled vehicles began arriving just before midnight Tuesday to the city of 50,000 located directly across from Manhattan.
About half the city was flooded when the hurricane slammed the region, pushing water up the Hudson River and over its banks.
Sandy has caused at least 61 U.S. deaths so far. New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg said he expected rescue workers to find more casualties as they comb through the wreckage.
Wednesday marks the first day back at work for many in the hardest-hit areas, with days and weeks of cleanup ahead. Two of the nation's busiest airports, New York's Kennedy Airport and New Jersey's Newark Airport, reopened for limited service. LaGuardia Airport will stay closed because of extensive damage caused by runway flooding.
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said limited subway service is set to resume on Thursday.
There were still only hints of the economic impact of the storm.
Forecasting firm IHS Global Insight predicted it will end up causing about $20 billion in damage and $10 billion to $30 billion in lost business. Another firm, AIR Worldwide, estimated losses up to $15 billion - big numbers probably offset by reconstruction and repairs that will contribute to longer-term growth.
Millions of people faced a second day without power Wednesday as temperatures stayed in the 30s and 40s. At its peak more than 8.5 million people were without electricity Tuesday.
New York's power company estimated it would be four days before the last of the 323,000 customers in Manhattan and Brooklyn who lost power have electricity restored. For the Bronx, Queens, Staten Island and Westchester County, with more than 450,000 outages, it could take a week.
Many hoped Broadway would reopen, but both The Lion King and Mary Poppins announced that Wednesday's shows would be canceled. The Metropolitan Opera said it planned to go ahead with its Wednesday evening performance of Thomas Ades' The Tempest.
At least 17 states suffered intense effects from the storm.
Coastal flooding along the Great Lakes was possible due to strong and persistent northerly winds.
The mountains of West Virginia could get a dumping of up to 10 more inches of snow, bringing totals to 2 feet to 3 feet in places. Surf conditions along the Atlantic, from Florida through New England, are expected to remain dangerous through Friday.
Across the storm region:
- Many school districts remained closed Wednesday as officials inspected buildings to ensure they were safe before reopening.
- In Virginia, utility crews hope to complete all storm restoration work by Thursday night except for a few locations where flooding or severe damage occurred.
- In West Virginia, utilities scrambled to restore power to thousands of customers amid snow storms and freezing temperatures. Poor road conditions were hampering assessment efforts.
- The Baltimore-Washington, D.C., area was returning to normal after being spared the brunt of Sandy. The storm flooded a few city streets and downed trees and power lines.
- On the Outer Banks of North Carolina, residents and property owners were coping with flooding, although emergency management officials say it could have been worse. The storm closed highway NC 12, known as "the beach road," and a portion of U.S. 158 in Kitty Hawk, one of the main entryways to the area.
- A 103-year-old oak tree that fell during the storm in New Haven, Conn., revealed a skeleton that may have been there since Colonial times. The tree was on the town green, in an area where thousands were buried in the Colonial era.
- Along the storm's path, many communities are postponing Halloween celebrations until streets are once again safe. In New Jersey, Gov. Christie postponed Halloween until Monday, saying it was too dangerous for children to go trick-or-treating Wednesday night.
Contributing: The Associated Press, Asbury Park Press
Copyright 2012 USATODAY.com