Despite power outages, flooding and a crippled transportation system, New Yorkers stepped out into the streets Wednesday, trying to regain their daily fast-paced rhythm.
Getting to work
The sun was not up yet over Central Park and torn branches and debris from Superstorm Sandy were still scattered along Fifth Avenue as several New Yorkers huddled around a bus stop on the Upper East Side. They lined up as the bus approached, and, as a woman wearing scrubs took the first steps into the bus, the driver stopped her from paying the fare.
“It’s free today,” she said.
Buses and taxis were only a small part of the traffic crisscrossing streets at a brisk and, at times, busy pace for 6:45 a.m. The congestion became a serious concern as the day progressed, and Wednesday afternoon New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg said he would restrict car traffic coming into Manhattan to vehicles carrying three or more passengers until Friday.
Jonathan Sanger / NBC News
Restaurant workers remove water from the flooded basement of the 11B Express pizzeria in the East Village, New York, on Wednesday.
While some bus service resumed and some bridges reopened, transit officials said they couldn't predict when the entire subway would be fully restored. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said that parts of the subway would begin running again Thursday morning.
Many of Broadway’s 40 theaters, which had been closed Monday and Tuesday, were open Wednesday, but "The Lion King," "Mary Poppins" and “Evita” were among the performances that were canceled. That sent several dozen people – mostly tourists – to Minskoff Theater, where they waited in an orderly line at the box office to sort out their tickets.
Museums, the Empire State Building and many stores also reopened Wednesday but parks, the 9/11 Memorial, the Statue of Liberty, Ellis Island and many other top attractions remained shuttered.
At the New York Stock Exchange
Financial markets reopened after a two-day shutdown, with Bloomberg ringing the opening bell at the New York Stock Exchange.
If you took a quick glance at the neighborhood around the exchange, you would have thought it was a normal Wednesday morning on Wall Street. Traffic was moving, and a combination of locals, exchange workers and tourists populated the sidewalks.
Brendan Mcdermid / Reuters
Traders and staff report to work at the New York Stock Exchange on Wednesday.
But this was no typical morning. No stores or restaurants were open -- not even a Starbucks. The traffic light at the corner of Broadway and Wall Street was dark; there was no power anywhere.
The only building within view that had electricity was the iconic New York Stock Exchange, which has always been heavily fortified, with backups upon backups, lest the edifice of American capitalism be compromised.
The building –- lit red, white and blue -- stood out against the rest of the Financial District, which was pitch black before dawn.
Exchange workers began showing up slowly, some working on connecting their firms with the trading floor.
"We'll have to run the servers from the floor," one worker said to another.
Others walked around looking for a good cell signal.
As the morning went on, traffic built up, and more workers arrived, some by taxi, some by limo, others in vans or buses.
Many left behind difficult circumstances at home caused by the massive storm.
"I need to find a whole-house generator," a security guard said. His house was without power, and he had toddlers at home.
"You and me, we live through it," he said. "But the babies, they don't understand."
Two exchange workers walked past. One pumped his fist. "We're back," he said. "We're back!"
National Guard lends a hand
Military trucks parked along Lexington Avenue with the Chrysler Building in the background is the type of sight that stops people in their tracks.
“It’s pretty cool,” a biker said, snapping a photo on his iPhone. “You just don’t see this in New York.”
Jonathan Sanger / NBC News
Army National Guard troops from upstate New York stand in front of the the 69th Regiment Armory in Manhattan, on Wednesday.
Army National Guard troops from upstate New York were deployed on a 24-hour schedule to the city to supplement the rescue and recovery efforts of the New York Police and Fire Departments in the storm’s aftermath. The troops are stationed at the 69th Regiment Armory, a historic building currently powered by a generator courtesy of the organizers of the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show, which takes place there later this year.
“We’re here to help with anything the city can’t handle,” Capt. Brian Reed told NBC News.
Capt. Kevin O’Reilly said the troops will likely stick around for a while as there’s still a lot of work to be done. So far, they helped evacuate a nursing home in the Rockaways, changed batteries in cell towers and brought fuel up numerous flights of stairs to Bellevue Hospital, among other things.
“Our biggest challenge is ensuring that everybody around here is taken care of because of the power outages,” he said.
A couple of blocks away, a deli worker who had poked a hole in a pizza box, wrote “open” in big letters across the front and put the box around his neck was standing in front of the Gramercy Star Café, hoping to attract customers to one of the very few open businesses on that block.
The deli was without power, but the gas stoves were working, so kitchen staff worked by candlelight, making sandwiches and baking pastries.
In the East Village
Vincent Sgarlato’s restaurant, “11B Express,” was closed Wednesday and dealing with a flooded basement, but residents in the neighborhood told us the pizzeria had given out free slices for most of the day Tuesday.
Sgarlato said that once the restaurant lost power, he decided not to let the pizza dough go to waste. He and his team spent more than seven hours baking more than 125 pies, he said, which they sliced and gave away to whomever wandered in the restaurant.
“It felt so good to do it,” Sgarlato, who opened the pizzeria about six years ago, told NBC News, adding that people wanted to give him tips but he couldn’t take them.
“I don’t have the heart to do that,” he said.
Jonathan Sanger / NBC News
Vincent Sgarlato, owner of the 11B Express restaurant in the East Village, New York, stands behind the counter by the pizza ovens on Wednesday. His restaurant was closed for the day he gave away free pizza for several hours Tuesday.
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