Stunned New York still not ready to host marathon

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 04 November, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 04 November, 2012, 3:21am


The famed New York marathon slated for today has been cancelled in the face of a rising death toll, crippled city infrastructure and widespread fuel shortages inflicted by Hurricane Sandy.

Even though electricity finally returned to swathes of the city, other parts are still struggling to recover from the devastation that killed at least 95 people in 15 states and in Canada.

The toll in New York City alone rose to 40 and at least 22 had died in neighbouring New Jersey, where searches of isolated areas are continuing.

There was a glimmer of good news as power returned to nearly all of Manhattan, amounting to almost half of the homes still left in the dark since Sandy struck. "Most Manhattan back," ConEd reported on its Twitter account, as people on the streets of the district cheered as the lights gradually came back on.

Full power was expected to return to the city's richest and most densely populated borough over the weekend.

But widespread outages continued in other parts of the city, as well as in New Jersey. Tensions were laid bare as fights erupted in huge queues at the few petrol stations still functioning, with some cities in the region rationing fuel even for emergency services.

Amid the city's struggles, Mayor Michael Bloomberg reversed his earlier position that the city's marathon should go ahead as a sign of resilience.

He had been under growing pressure from critics who said the marathon would divert badly needed police and other resources. "The marathon has always brought our city together and inspired us with stories of courage and determination. We would not want a cloud to hang over the race or its participants, and so we have decided to cancel it," he said in a surprise statement.

At the midtown New Yorker Hotel, the lobby was filled with anguished runners, some crying and others with puffy eyes.

In one corner, a group of Italian runners watched the news with blank looks. "I have no words," said Roberto Dell'Olmo, from Vercelli. Then later: "I would like that the money I give from the marathon goes to the victims."

The cancellation of the 40-year-old event was cheered by New Yorkers who organised a social media campaign accusing the authorities of being out of touch.

Mary Wittenberg, president of the New York Road Runners organising group, was disappointed but philosophical.

"The best thing for New York and the best thing for the marathon for the future is unfortunately to move on," Wittenberg said. "This isn't the year or the time to run it."

The marathon typically brings the city US$340 million, but much of that would have been lost, organisers said, because as many as 10,000 of the field of nearly 45,000 runners would not have come this year because of the damage.

More pressing was finding vehicle fuel as the biggest US city attempts to return to life.

Many stations have petrol but no electricity to power the pumps and handle payments. Some station owners refuse to open until police are on guard.