NEW YORK – A nor'easter blustered into New York and New Jersey on Wednesday, bringing wet snow to some areas, knocking down tree limbs and power lines, and inflicting misery all over again on tens of thousands of people still reeling from Superstorm Sandy.
Under ordinary circumstances, a storm of this sort wouldn't be a big deal, but large swaths of the landscape still were an open wound, with the electrical system highly fragile and many of Sandy's victims still mucking out their homes and cars and shivering in the deepening cold.
Thousands of people in low-lying neighborhoods staggered by the superstorm just over a week ago were warned to clear out. Authorities said rain and 60 mph gusts in the evening and overnight could swamp homes again, topple trees wrenched loose by Sandy, and erase some of the hard-won progress made in restoring power to millions of customers.
"I am waiting for the locusts and pestilence next," New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie said. "We may take a setback in the next 24 hours."
Ahead of the storm, public works crews in New Jersey built up dunes to protect the stripped and battered coast, and new evacuations were ordered in a number of communities already emptied by Sandy. New shelters opened.
In New York City, police went to low-lying neighborhoods with loudspeakers, urging residents to leave. But Mayor Michael Bloomberg didn't issue mandatory evacuations, and many people stayed behind, some because they feared looting, others because they figured whatever happens couldn't be any worse than what they have gone through already.
"This is nothing," Staten Island nurse Elena McDonnell said as she weathered the storm in a dark, flood-damaged home that she fled last week when cars on her block began floating away.
Still, authorities urged caution. The city manager in Long Beach, N.Y., urged the roughly 21,000 people who ignored previous mandatory evacuation orders in the badly damaged barrier-island city to get out.
All construction in New York City was halted – a precaution that needed no explanation after a crane collapsed last week in Sandy's high winds and dangled menacingly over the streets of Manhattan. Parks were closed because of the danger of falling trees. Drivers were advised to stay off the road after 5 p.m.
Airlines canceled at least 1,300 U.S. flights in and out of the New York metropolitan area, causing a new round of disruptions that rippled across the country.
By the afternoon, the storm was bringing rain and wet snow to New York, New Jersey and the Philadelphia area. Huge waves pounded the beaches in New Jersey. Firefighters in New York City responded to reports of tree branches falling into buildings, blocking streets and knocking down electrical wires.
The early-afternoon high tide came and went without any reports of serious flooding in New York City, the mayor said. The next high tide was early Thursday morning. But forecasters said the moment of maximum flood danger may have passed in the afternoon.
"We're petrified," said James Alexander, a resident of the hard-hit Rockaways section of Queens. "It's like a sequel to a horror movie." Nevertheless, he said he was staying to watch over his house and his neighbors.
On Staten Island, workers and residents on a washed-out block in Midland Beach continued to pull debris – old lawn chairs, stuffed animals, a basketball hoop – from their homes, even as the bad weather blew in.
Jane Murphy, a nurse, wondered, "How much worse can it get?" as she cleaned the inside of her flooded-out car.
Forecasters said the nor'easter would bring moderate coastal flooding, with storm surges of about 3 feet possible Wednesday into Thursday – far less than the 8 to 14 feet Sandy hurled at the region. The storm's winds were expected to be well below Sandy's, which gusted to 90 mph.
Sandy killed more than 100 people in 10 states, with most of the victims in New York and New Jersey. Long lines persisted as gas stations but were shorter than they were days ago. Ahead of the nor'easter, an estimated 270,000 homes and businesses in New York state and around 370,000 in New Jersey were still without electricity.
The storm could bring repairs to a standstill because of federal safety regulations that prohibit linemen from working in bucket trucks when wind gusts reach 40 mph.
Authorities warned also that trees and limbs broken or weakened by Sandy could fall and that even where repairs have been made, the electrical system is fragile, with some substations fed by only a single power line instead of several.
"We are expecting there will be outages created by the new storm, and it's possible people who have just been restored from Sandy will lose power again," said Mike Clendenin, a spokesman for Consolidated Edison, the main utility in New York City.