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US Navy sends in carriers to help NY, NJ after Sandy

/ Source: NBC News and news services

The U.S. Navy is sending three helicopter carrier ships to the coast off New York and New Jersey to help rescue and recovery operations in the wake of superstorm Sandy, officials told NBC News.

Navy officials said USS Wasp, USS Carter Hall, and USS Mesa Verde had been ordered to head to the area to provide landing platforms for Coast Guard, National Guard and civilian agency helicopters if needed.

The Atlantic Fleet command made the decision in the name of "prudent planning," officials said.

The USS Mesa Verde in 2009Monica Rueda / AFP

With six days to go before the Nov. 6 elections, President Barack Obama will visit flood-ravaged areas of the New Jersey shore, where the storm made landfall on Monday.

As his guide, he will have Republican Governor Chris Christie, a vocal backer of presidential challenger Mitt Romney who has nevertheless praised Obama and the federal response to the storm.

"Tomorrow recovery begins. Today was a day of sorrow," Christie told a news conference late Tuesday. "There's nothing wrong with that. So long as sorrow doesn't replace resilience, we'll be just fine."

Millions across the Northeast were stricken by the massive storm with ongoing power and mass transit outages around New York for several more days. However, Wall Street, airports and some businesses were reopening Wednesday.

Sandy was responsible for the deaths of at least 47 people in the United States, NBC News reported Wednesday, after killing 68 in the Caribbean. Some 6.6 million were still without power.

epa03453114 A handout photograph provided by the US Air Force on 31 October 2012 shows aerial views of the damage caused by Hurricane Sandy to the New Jersey coast, taken during a search and rescue mission by 1-150 Assault Helicopter Battalion, New Jersey Army National Guard, in New Jersey, USA, 30 October 2012. The US East Coast was to start picking up the pieces on 31 October after superstorm Sandy left at least 33 people dead and damage estimated in the billions of dollars. New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg said the largest US city was going 'back to business' and bus routes would be fully reopened 31 October. The subway would probably take another four or five days to resume operations, he said late 30 October. Some flights were to also resume. US President Barack Obama planned to visit New Jersey on 31 October with the state's governor, Chris Christie, for a first-hand impression of the damage. 'The devastation on the Jersey shore is unthinkable,' said the leader of the state where Sandy made landfall 29 October night. EPA/MASTER SGT. MARK OLSEN / US AIR FORCE / HANDOUT HANDOUT EDITORIAL USE ONLYMaster Sgt. Mark Olsen / US AIR FORCE

Footage from a helicopter flying over the New Jersey coastline showed fires raging among storm-damaged homes, with TODAY's Natalie Morales reporting that she counted some 25 separate points of flame.

She speculated that fractured natural gas pipes or downed electrical lines could have caused the fires. Emergency dispatchers in Bricktown, N.J., told NBC News they were dealing with fires in the area.

Boats that Morales said had been "tossed as if toys" could be seen piled up next to wrecked houses in the area.

Meanwhile, Sandy pushed inland, dumping several feet of snow in the Appalachian Mountains -- nearly 30 inches was recorded in Red House, Md. -- and then headed into Canada Wednesday.

The National Weather Service said "remnants of Sandy continue to weaken over Pennsylvania," in a 5 a.m. Wednesday update.

However, it said gale warnings and small craft advisories were in place for parts of the Great Lakes.

"Flood and coastal flood watches, warnings and advisories are in effect over portions of the mid-Atlantic and Northeast states," the notice said.

Winter storm warnings and advisories remained in effect for parts of southwest Pennsylvania, western Maryland, West Virginia, eastern Tennessee, eastern Kentucky, and extreme western North Carolina. A further 2 to 4 inches of snow were expected in the mountains of West Virginia into western Maryland and southwestern Pennsylvania.

And dangerous surf condition were expected to continue from Florida to New England for the next couple of days, the NWS added.

Sandy caused waves up to two-stories high in the Great Lakes Tuesday, forcing massive cargo ships -- some longer than three football fields – to seek shelter.

"We don't stop for thunderstorms and flurries," said Glen Nekvasil, spokesman for the Lake Carriers' Association, which represents U.S.-flagged cargo ships on the Great Lakes. "The lakes don't have to be perfectly flat. It has to be a significant weather event for ships to go to anchor or stay in port. But this was just too much."

Subway tracks and commuter tunnels under New York City, which carry several million people a day, were under several feet of water. The lower half of Manhattan remained without power after a transformer explosion at a Con Edison substation Monday night.

Hit with a record storm surge of nearly 14 feet of water, New York City likely will struggle without subways for days, authorities said. Buses were operating on a limited basis.

Officials with New York's Metropolitan Transportation Authority said they would release a timetable of their recovery plans sometime on Wednesday.

Officials planned to reopen financial markets on Wednesday and on Broadway, most shows “will go on,” Charlotte St. Martin, executive director of The Broadway League, said in a statement on its website.

Two of the area's three major airports -- John F. Kennedy International in New York and Newark Liberty International -- planned to reopen with limited service on Wednesday.

New York's LaGuardia Airport was flooded and remained closed. Nearly 19,000 flights have been canceled since Sunday, according to flight tracking service FlightAware.com.

Sunday’s New York Marathon is still on, but weather.com pointed out that “flying in runners from out of town will be tricky, and there may not be a subway to get everyone to the starting line.”

Residents make their way through flood waters brought on by Hurricane Sandy in Little Ferry, New Jersey, October 30, 2012. Millions of people across the eastern United States awoke on Tuesday to scenes of destruction wrought by monster storm Sandy, which knocked out power to huge swathes of the nation's most densely populated region, swamped New York's subway system and submerged streets in Manhattan's financial district. REUTERS/Adam Hunger (UNITED STATES - Tags: DISASTER ENVIRONMENT)Adam Hunger / X01873

In New Jersey, Christie took a helicopter tour of the Jersey shore on Tuesday and saw boats adrift, boardwalks washed away, roads blocked by massive sand drifts and other destruction. He stopped in the badly damaged resort towns of Belmar and Avalon.

"I was just here walking this place this summer, and the fact that most of it is gone is just incredible," he said at one stop.

Christie said it could be seven to 10 days before power is restored statewide. He said residents could not yet return to homes on the shore's battered barrier islands.

Thousands of residents of Hoboken, N.J., just across the Hudson River from Manhattan, were stranded in their homes due to flooding, the mayor said.

Dawn Zimmer, mayor of Hoboken, said half the city remained flooded Tuesday night.

"We have, probably, about 20,000 people that still remain in their homes, and we're trying to put together an evacuation plan, get the equipment here," Zimmer told MSNBC TV.