text

Aftermath ... a sign warns away looters after superstorm Sandy, in Queens, New York. Photo: Reuters

NEW YORK: ''If you come, I will shoot,'' warns a sign written by Mike Dougherty and propped up on the porch of his flood-ravaged home in Belle Harbor, a middle-class neighbourhood in the New York borough of Queens.

By day, this suburban enclave on the Rockaway Peninsula hummed with activity last week as people continued the long, hard slog of cleaning up after superstorm Sandy. But at night, with no electricity, this once-desirable neighbourhood becomes a cold, dark and desolate place.

''Some guys were trying to break into a house down the street the other night but the cops got them,'' Mr Dougherty said. A serving police officer, he vowed he would use his gun if he had to.

Elizabeth McBride, an elementary school teacher, was stuffing sodden clothes into plastic bags outside her home a few streets away. She too was worried about the number of strangers coming into the neighbourhood. ''There are million-dollar homes in this street and people are seeing opportunities,'' she said.

Because she has no electricity, she decamps to her sister's house every night and is certain someone tried to get into her home while she was absent. Her back door has been tampered with and locked gates in the garden were found open.

Ms McBride, a teacher for 30 years, said sporadic mobile phone coverage added to her sense of vulnerability.

''They took generators into the low-income areas but Belle Harbor's got screwed. They should share it out,'' she added.

Nearly two weeks after the superstorm wreaked devastation over vast swathes of New York and New Jersey, recovery from one of the biggest storms to hit the US remains patchy. While Manhattan has more or less returned to normal, conditions are dire in outlying areas. About 750,000 people are still without electricity, heating and hot water.

To counter long waits and angry scenes at petrol stations, New York City on Friday followed the example of New Jersey and began rationing petrol, the first time it has done so since the 1970s. The measure has not stopped price sharks approaching drivers waiting in queues, offering to sell 19 litres of fuel for $US80 to $US100 ($77 to $96) - four or five times the normal price.

The New York State Attorney-General, Eric Schneiderman, is leading a probe into profiteering, with the website Craigslist in his sights. He wants the popular listings site to identify sellers who were charging outrageous prices for essentials like generators, transportation and groceries. Hotels that raised their room prices also face censure.

There have been outpourings of sympathy for the victims and many generous gestures. People are raising funds in coffee shops, restaurants and bars. Chelsea Clinton was a notable volunteer who gave up her spare time to help in one of the stricken areas. So too did disgraced congressman Anthony Weiner, who resigned after posting sexually explicit photos of his genitals on Twitter.

Telegraph, London