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New York - Airlines suspended hundreds of flights around New York on Wednesday after gale-force winds and snow lashed the city where tens of thousands of people still lack electricity since superstorm Sandy.
The severe weather, with snow, sleet, rain and winds gusting to a maximum of 96km/h an hour, came just over a week after hurricane-strength Sandy wrought serious damage on the region and caused travel chaos.
The new gale, a seasonal Nor'easter expected to last 24 hours, was much less powerful than Sandy, but was being taken seriously.
United Airlines and American temporarily shut down their New York area operations, while New York City and New Jersey called for limited evacuations of low-lying areas.
“We won't order the kind of large-scale evacuation that we did during Hurricane Sandy, but if you experienced significant flooding during Sandy you should consider taking shelter with friends,” New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg said.
“So far we've not had any reports of flooding today,” he added.
Sandy, which began as a deadly hurricane in the Caribbean, slammed 15 eastern US states and prompted a huge tidal surge that killed at least 109 people in the United States and Canada and caused tens of billions of dollars worth of damage.
The coastal regions of New York and New Jersey were hardest-hit when Sandy crashed ashore on October 29.
A total of 672 572 homes and businesses were without electricity on Wednesday, the US Department of Energy said, with most in New Jersey and New York. Of those, 22 000 lost power Wednesday in the Nor'easter.
Bloomberg said that 66 000 customers in New York City still remained in the dark. The main reason for the delay, the mayor said, was that flooding seawater during Sandy had damaged electrical circuits in buildings and that meant a time-consuming clean-up before it was safe to restore power.
The latest bad weather would briefly slow down efforts to bring back electricity, pump out flooded basements, clear storm-related debris and rebuild disrupted city services, Bloomberg said.
“It will be relatively minor, but it's just more work for the utility companies,” Bloomberg said. “Our expectation is that tomorrow we'll be back working.”
He said that in the last six days, city and government relief workers had handed out 1.6 million meals and 400 000 bottles of water, as well as 86 000 blankets. Sanitation crews have hauled away 130 000 tons of storm debris.
Bloomberg said he thought New Yorkers in public housing would all be back home with heat, power and gas by the end of the week.
But because Sandy had already weakened trees, “the predicted wind speeds present an increased risk of more downed trees and tree limbs, as well as windblown debris”, the mayor's office warned, advising people to stay indoors and not drive.
American Airlines and American Eagle announced a suspension of all flights in Philadelphia from 17h00 GMT and in New York-area airports by 20h00 GMT, affecting about 290 flights.
Operations were to resume normally once the gale passed on Thursday.
United Airlines had already announced similar measures, with flights from John F. Kennedy, LaGuardia and Newark airports around New York being suspended.
The Port Authority, which runs the airports, said “due to inclement weather forecasted for Wednesday, November 7th through Thursday, November 8th, travellers (at JFK) should check with their airlines for the status of their flights”. - Sapa-AFP