New York streets covered with debris as Sandy's waters recede (Photo Courtesy: Getty Images)
NEW YORK - In Central Park, as New York Marathon staff erected the finish line grandstand, nearby city workers in cherry pickers sawed off tree limbs damaged by superstorm Sandy.
At the Javits Convention Center on 11th Avenue, a heavy flow of visitors were greeted at the door by the smell of mold coming from the flooded basement. Inside marathon organizers and vendors gathered to hand out race numbers and sell merchandise.
The race, scheduled for Sunday, will go on, says Mayor Michael Bloomberg. And many participants - some of them New Yorkers affected by Sandy, others visitors from other countries - are grateful for the decision, despite criticism from those who believe local resources should be reserved for storm recovery efforts.
"It's a way for the city to move on, symbolically, to say that we're getting back to normal," says marathoner Eric Anthamatten, a philosophy professor who lives in Manhattan.
Sandy left millions of homes and businesses across the region without power. The city continued to restore several avenues of public transportation Thursday, though bus and rail service was limited and often delayed. The race is scheduled to begin in Staten Island, which suffered 17 of the 34 storm-related deaths in New York.
I think it will be good to bring the morale back to the city," said first-time marathoner Shawna Denhart of Brooklyn. "A lot of negative things have happened. It's a tradition. It's not something new to the city. As New Yorkers we adapt very well to circumstances."
Airport closures changed travel plans for many race participants and their families, including Wilson Kipsang of Kenya, who is among the men's leading contenders. He flew into Philadelphia when flights to New York were canceled.
"It's really unfortunate for the city and for the race preparation," he told USA TODAY Sports. "I feel that many things will be different and back to normal by Sunday."
Bloomberg said Thursday that electricity is expected to be restored in downtown Manhattan by Sunday, alleviating the strain on the police force in time for the marathon.
The decision to hold the race continued to stir debate among local politicans.
Staten Island councilman James Oddo posted on his Facebook page that no resources should be diverted from the community to the marathon. He said he had a "respectful" conversation with Bloomberg but wasn't backing down from his position.
"It's a very difficult sell partly because up until this morning it seemed the rest of the world didn't know how broken Staten Island was," Oddo said Thursday. "The notion that we would possibly divert resources from this mission to have police stand behind a barricade (for the race) doesn't compute with me."
The bodies of two Staten Island boys, ages 2 and 4, were found by police Thursday after they were swept off the roof of their mother's SUV in the storm.
"We understand showing the world that we are strong and resilient and we can endure a punch, but for a marathon?" Oddo said. "I have great respect for runners, respect for the marathon's history.
"We're saying postpone it for a week. If that means if we shed some of those (thousands of) runners, I'm sorry. Right now I think the focus should be on recovery."
Some argue that the positive financial impact that tens of thousands of visitors bring to the city is reason enough for the race to go on. Estimates pegged the economic impact at $350 million.
"You've got to figure, people have come from all over the world to be here. You can't just suddenly say forget it. The race is off," says Danny Cappiello, a Long Island native and a producer for the New York Road Runners online show.
"The city took a big hit financially with the storm, and the marathon brings in a lot of money, so right now, anything you can do, you've got to try."