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New York's Financial Center Hard Hit By Sandy

Lower Manhattan, the financial center of New York, is only in the initial stages of recovering from Superstorm Sandy. The extent of the damage to hundreds of residential and commercial buildings remains unclear, and experts say full recovery could take years.

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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

The nor'easter also affected New York City, where many residential and commercial buildings are still crippled from Sandy. Some flooded on the lower floors; and many more lost power, forcing many residents and businesses to find temporary new homes. NPR's Richard Gonzales reports.

RICHARD GONZALES, BYLINE: Before Sandy pushed the East River into the South Street Seaport, Kit White - an artist and professor - decided to ride out the storm in his three-story, brick building on Front Street. It's his home, and he rents the first floor to a cafe.

PROFESSOR KIT WHITE: You know, I had this whole front sandbagged, and a water membrane up. And everything was fine until about 4 and a half feet. And then, the pressure of the water was just too much. And we heard this explosion, and we ran down; of course, the doors had caved in.

GONZALES: White and his wife sat on their fire escape, and watched the water claim every storefront on a block he's lived on since the 1970s. He says the street was finally coming alive with new bars, cafes and restaurants.

WHITE: But of course, now, what's really hard to know is, can these businesses come back?

GONZALES: A lot of people are asking the same question.

(SOUNDBITE OF GENERATORS)

GONZALES: On the street, there's an incessant drone of generators and pumps - large and small - pulling no-one-knows-how-much water out of basements. Electrical and mechanical systems are trashed. And many large businesses - such as Standard and Poor's, Morgan Stanley, the Daily News - not to mention nonprofits like the ACLU, are displaced.

PETER RIGUARDI: About 25 percent of the market in Lower Manhattan, has been affected by Sandy's tidal wave rush.

GONZALES: Peter Riguardi is the president of the New York region for Jones Lang LaSalle, a global real estate firm.

RIGUARDI: And I think, generally, we expect that all of that space will be reoccupied by its tenants in a period of - you know, three to eight weeks' time.

GONZALES: Which means some companies won't be back home until early next year. That's creating a scramble for alternate space. And that's where Howard Watler comes in. He's vice president of Rockefeller Group business centers. He's the guy you go to, when you need temporary office space and technical support. Here's what he hears.

HOWARD WATLER: I got 10 heads. I got 40 heads. I need 50 work stations. I need 100 work stations. I need five work stations. I need it now. I need it for a week. I need it for three months.

GONZALES: And Watler says he can't handle all the businesses looking for help.

WATLER: There's, clearly, an urgency. There are people that have managed to get back into their buildings; managed to rip their server out of their rack, and come over with it and say, can I plug this in and get going?

GONZALES: It's that "let's get going" attitude that keeps Tom Scarangello optimistic. He's the chairman and CEO of Thornton Tomasetti, a global building design firm that's studying the damage to some lower Manhattan buildings.

TOM SCARANGELLO: I've seen New York go through a lot of things. And I'm sure we will not only recover, but we'll learn from this and they'll be - we'll be stronger from it. It'll take time, but I think every time one of these events happen, the city becomes stronger because we learn something that helps us in future situations.

GONZALES: Still, Scarangello says his firm is only in the early stages of evaluating the damage; and he says there are very long weeks, and months, ahead before the full extent of the storm's impact is known.

Richard Gonzales, NPR News, New York. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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