Sandy survivors push toward normalcy and search for the missing

The death toll mounted Thursday as survivors struggled to regain a semblance of the normalcy that Superstorm Sandy swept away this week when it struck the Northeast.

In some cases, tempers grew short.

"We're gonna die down here!" wailed Donna Solli to Sen. Chuck Schumer as he toured her waterlogged neighborhood in New York's Staten Island with a group of reporters. "When is the government coming?"

Solli said residents needed gas, food and clothes. "We're gonna freeze," she said on a day when the 50-degree temperature was predicted to drop to the low 40s. "We've got 90-year-old people!"

The Democratic senator from New York said he understood and hugged her.

Solli said her refrigerator was upside down and her basement was flooded. "I stayed here because I have an elderly dog," she told a reporter. "We nearly drowned."

Solli added that she had had little to eat. "One slice of pizza in 48 hours."

As he surveyed the damage in the neighborhood, the politician told a reporter, "This is the worst thing I've ever seen, and it's killing me what these people have to go through. We'll get whatever federal help we can, that's for sure."

Afterward, a senior administration official told CNN that a convoy of 10 Red Cross trucks filled with food, water and medicine arrived Thursday evening on Staten Island.

Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano and FEMA Deputy Administrator Richard Serino were to travel Friday to Staten Island to meet with state and local officials and view the response and recovery efforts, the White House said.

Some people were just happy to be alive.

About 90 miles north of Staten Island, the mayor of Danbury, Connecticut, Mark D. Boughton, was visiting a special-needs shelter on Wednesday night when he met a 106-year-old woman who had cancer and was in hospice.

"She's happy to be alive," he tweeted. "Every day is a gift."

Contacted by telephone, Boughton said the cheerfulness of the lifelong resident of Danbury had inspired him. "The essence of it was, look, you gotta make each day count," he said. "You don't know when your time comes."

In Sandy's wake, at least 157 people died -- at least 88 of them in the United States, two in Canada and 67 in the Caribbean.

The bodies of two children were found Thursday. The boys, ages 2 and 4, had been riding with their mother on Staten Island when the storm surge swamped their SUV, authorities said.

They were found "maybe a block or two from where (their mother) lost them," Borough President James Molinaro said.

Several people were missing.

Sandy claimed at least 37 lives in New York City, Mayor Michael Bloomberg told reporters Thursday.

Authorities in nine states worked to restore basic services such as public transit and electricity.

In New York City, nearly 500,000 customers were without power. In Manhattan, many of the 220,000 customers without electricity were south of Midtown's 34th Street. Parts of Queens and Staten Island also had no electricity Thursday. "Restoring power will take a lot of time," the mayor said.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo, in a letter to utilities, warned of consequences if authorities discover that they failed to prepare properly. "Under such circumstances, I would direct the Public Service Commission to commence a proceeding to revoke your certificates," he wrote.

That message was not lost on its intended targets. "We're doing our damnedest to get our power back as quickly as possible," said John Miksad, senior vice president of electric operations at Con Ed.

New York's vast transit network remains hobbled. The Metropolitan Transit Authority said 14 of the city's 23 subway lines were running and a flotilla of 4,000 buses was attempting to take up the slack. For some, Thursday's commute into Manhattan from the outer boroughs took five hours.

Bloomberg predicted that would ease as tunnels are cleared of water, power is restored to subway lines and ferries resume service.

Getting water out of the tunnels is "one of the main orders of business right now," Cuomo said.

Broadway theaters reopened Thursday, and organizers vowed to hold the New York City Marathon as scheduled on Sunday. Event organizer Mary Wittenberg said the race wouldn't divert resources from the recovery.

Three days after Sandy barreled ashore in southern New Jersey, search-and-rescue crews were going door-to-door in some neighborhoods looking for people, particularly the elderly, who may have been stranded by the power outages, the debris and remaining floodwater.

Sandy killed at least six people in New Jersey, said Gov. Chris Christie, who had warned people in low-lying areas to evacuate.

Christie asked for patience as crews worked to restore electricity to more than 2 million power company customers.

The federal government shipped 1 million meals Thursday to New York, where National Guard troops were distributing them to people in need, Cuomo told reporters.

The storm dumped up to 3 feet of snow in West Virginia and Maryland, leaving thousands without power.

Nearly 3.5 million

customers across the eastern United States were still in the dark Thursday, down from nearly 8 million in its immediate aftermath.

By Thursday, Sandy's remnants had headed into Canada.

The National Weather Service predicted a nor'easter next week from the mid-Atlantic states into New England. But the forecast said the storm would be far weaker than Sandy.

CNN's Chelsea J. Carter, Tom Watkins, Joe Sterling and Melissa Gray contributed to this report.