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Troops rescued more people from storm-flooded homes on Thursday and millions remained without power along the US East Coast even as New York struggled back to life with the first subway trains rolling in four days.

The US death toll from Hurricane Sandy rose to at least 85 as New York reported a major jump in fatalities caused by Monday's storm. Fuel shortages led to long lines of cars at gasoline stations in many states and the country faced a storm bill of tens of billions of dollars.

Despite a huge cleanup operation after the devastating storm, major difficulties remained along the East Coast, particularly in New Jersey.

National Guard troops were still helping to get people out of flooded homes in Hoboken, across the Hudson River from New York, a Guard spokesman said. "We are still doing search and rescue operations across the state," the spokesman said.

Hoboken authorities estimated on Wednesday that 20,000 people were stuck in their homes and high-wheel military trucks were brought in to reach stricken houses and apartment blocks.

The floodwaters receded slowly, leaving desolation on Thursday. A yacht, thrown up by the storm, blocked one street near the Hoboken ferry terminal. 

New Jersey, where President Barack Obama went Wednesday, emerged as the state with the most widespread destruction. At least 12 people were reported dead in the state, and many isolated districts were still being searched.

Some 1.8 million people in New Jersey were still without electricity three days after the storm and fuel shortages were becoming critical, with huge queues of cars at the rare gas stations open in the state.

The first subway trains brought some cheer to New York City, but difficulties remained significant with Con Edison power company saying that about 650,000 thousand people in the city were still without power.

Con Edison spokesman Alfonso Quiroz promised that more than 200,000 Manhattan customers blacked out by an explosion at a sub-station would have power by Saturday morning.

New York authorities handed out ice across the city to help people preserve food.

A skeleton metro service started just before dawn and trains were quickly packed. Train fees were waived on Thursday and Friday. "It is not comfortable but it is a huge relief to get moving again," said commuter Dave Stetman.

In a bid to avoid gridlock traffic jams that hit Manhattan on Wednesday, Mayor Michael Bloomberg said cars entering the island must have at least three occupants. Police set up checkpoints at bridges on Thursday and turned back hundreds of cars.

Police said the New York City death toll from Sandy in the city had risen from 24 to 37. At least 85 people have now been reported dead along the 15 eastern states hit by Sandy.

The overall toll from the storm thus went up to 157, including fatalities in Canada and the Caribbean, where Haiti and Cuba were hit particularly hard.

In New York the majority of those killed were hit by trees that fell on their homes or cars as the storm whipped into the city.

But some heartbreaking stories emerged from the storm.

Two brothers, aged two and four, were swept from their mother's arms in the floods as the family tried to escape the rising seas in Staten Island in the New York suburbs.


Hurricane Sandy has forced Barack Obama and Mitt Romney to cancel up to two days of campaigning in the last full week of one of the closest presidential contests in recent US history.

While putting a severe limit on campaigning, the storm gave Mr Obama the opportunity to demonstrate leadership in the face of crisis. On the other side, there was the risk that the federal government, as in past emergencies, could be faulted for an ineffective response.

He cancelled campaign events in the key battleground state of Florida to hurry back to Washington and oversee the federal response to Sandy.

Parts of four swing states were in the hurricane's path: Virginia, North Carolina, Ohio and New Hampshire. Those and five others - Florida, Iowa, Wisconsin, Nevada and Colorado - that do not reliably vote Democrat or Republican will decide the close election.

The storm threatened to draw attention from both candidates' campaigns and hinder early voting before the November 6 election. Voters in many states are already casting ballots early, and about one-third of the electorate will have voted before Election Day.

Both campaigns used social media to urge supporters to donate to the Red Cross and said they would stop sending fundraising emails to people living in areas in the storm's path.

The storm took attention from Mr Romney, and power cuts could end up halting the deluge of television ads and automatic phone calls in the eastern battleground states.

Hurricane Sandy is heading north from the Caribbean - where it left nearly 60 people dead - to threaten the eastern US with sheets of rain, high winds and heavy snow as millions were warned to get out of its path.

Sandy is expected to affect up to 60 million people when it meets two other powerful winter storms. Experts said it will not matter how strong the storm is when it hits land - the rare hybrid that follows will cause havoc over 800 miles from the East Coast to the Great Lakes.

"This is not a coastal threat alone," said Craig Fugate, director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency. "This is a very large area."

New Jersey governor Chris Christie declared a state of emergency as hundreds of coastal residents started moving inland and the state moved to close its casinos. New York's governor is considering shutting down the subways to avoid flooding and half a dozen states warned residents to prepare for several days of lost power.

Sandy weakened briefly to a tropical storm early on Saturday but was soon back up to Category 1 hurricane strength, packing 75mph winds about 335 miles south east of Charleston, South Carolina.

Hurricane Sandy has hit Cuba after lashing shanty towns, stranding travellers and downing power lines across Jamaica.

Sandy made landfall just west of Santiago de Cuba in southern Cuba, and the US National Hurricane Centre in Miami said it had maximum sustained winds of 114mph. The storm, which packed heavy wind and rain as it roared across Jamaica, could go on to threaten the Bahamas and possibly Florida.

Sandy's death toll so far is at least two. An elderly man was killed in Jamaica when he was crushed by a boulder that rolled on to his clapboard house, and a woman in Haiti was swept away by a rushing river.

The storm hit Jamaica as a Category 1 hurricane, with maximum sustained winds of 90mph, then strengthened as it spun over open sea towards Cuba. In some southern towns on Jamaica, a few crocodiles were caught in rushing floodwaters that carried them out of their homes in mangrove thickets, showing up in districts where electricity was knocked out.

The hurricane's eye crossed over Jamaica and emerged from its northern coast near the town of Port Antonio, meteorologists said, but rain and wind continued to pound the Caribbean island.

It was the first direct hit by the eye of a hurricane on Jamaica since Gilbert 24 years ago, and fearful authorities closed the island's international airports and police ordered 48-hour curfews in major towns to keep people off the streets and deter looting. Cruise ships changed their itineraries to avoid the storm, which made landfall five miles east of the capital Kingston.

Flash floods and mudslides were a threat for the debt-ridden tropical island of about 2.7 million inhabitants, which has a crumbling infrastructure and a number of sprawling shanty towns built on steep embankments and along gullies that sluice run-off water to the sea.


US President Barack Obama and his Republican rival, Mitt Romney, on Saturday began preparing for their final debate, with Obama hunkering down at Camp David and Romney staying in Florida.

The third and last of their debates is scheduled for Monday at Lynn University in Boca Raton, Florida.

On Friday, Obama set an aggressive tone accusing Romney of suffering from policy "Romnesia," a barb dismissed by the Republican as pettiness 18 days before the election.

One night earlier, both men had traded light-hearted banter at a charity dinner, but on Friday the verbal attacks turned nasty, with the Democratic incumbent taunting Romney's efforts to tack to the center as polling day looms.

"Mr. Severely Conservative wants you to think he was severely kidding about everything he said over the last year," Obama said at a rally attended by some 9,000 people at a university campus outside Washington.

The Obama camp's previous bid to skewer Romney with insulting tags -- such as pushing the Robin-Hood-in-reverse term "Romney Hood" to tarnish his tax policies -- have done nothing to protect the president's shrinking poll lead.


But, with the pair's last of three head-to-head debates set for Monday, the campaign returned to its tried and tested formula of branding Romney an untrustworthy flip-flopper.

"I mean, he's changing up so much and backtracking and sidestepping, we've got to name this condition that he's going through. I think it's called 'Romnesia.' That's what it's called," Obama told the crowd.

The Republican nominee meanwhile campaigned in the biggest political battleground of all, Florida, where Monday's debate will be held, and he didn't hesitate to strike back at the president's comments.

"They've been reduced to petty attacks and silly word games," Romney told a crowd of more than 8,500 people at Daytona Beach, adding that Obama's re-election bid "has become the incredible shrinking campaign."

"This is a big country, with big opportunities and great challenges, and they keep on talking about smaller and smaller things."


Romney, accompanied by his running mate Paul Ryan, laid into the incumbent for failing to map out his plan for another four years should he win re-election.

"They have no agenda for the future, no agenda for America, no agenda for a second term."

While Romney's camp dismissed Obama's taunt as a gimmick, the image of Romney as a flip-flopper, one that his fellow conservatives have hit him with in the past, might yet gain traction with undecided voters.

One source that definitely does not back the multimillionaire private equity baron is The Salt Lake Tribune, the local paper in the home city of Romney's Mormon faith, albeit a liberal one that endorsed Obama in 2008.

In an editorial, the paper lavished praise on Romney for saving the city's 2002 Winter Olympics, but said his subsequent courting of the right-wing Tea Party movement and refusal to detail his tax plan should rule him out.


An Afghan police officer and cook poisoned their colleagues at a checkpoint in an assault co-ordinated with rebel fighters which left six dead in the country's south, officials say.

It was the latest in a string of attacks from inside the Afghan army and police that are threatening to undermine both the partnership with international troops - which have been the target of many attacks - and the morale of Afghan forces, who have suffered equally heavy casualties from such strikes.

The police officer and the cook worked with outside insurgents in the assault, which hit police manning a checkpoint in the Gereskh district of Helmand province, the governor's office said in a statement.

They poisoned two of the officers and then the militants attacked from outside, killing the remaining four officers, provincial spokesman Ahmad Zirak said. He did not say how the officers were poisoned.

The police officer was captured as he fled, but the cook escaped and remains at large, Mr Zirak added.

The insurgent gunmen escaped by motorcycle with weapons and ammunition, the governor's statement said.

Three jailed members of the Russian band Pussy Riot have told an appeal court they should not be imprisoned for their irreverent protest against president Vladimir Putin.

The women insisted that their impromptu performance inside Moscow's main cathedral was political in nature and not an attack on religion.

Dressed in neon-coloured miniskirts and tights, with homemade balaclavas on their heads, the women performed a "punk prayer" asking Virgin Mary to save Russia from Mr Putin as he headed into a March election that would hand him a third term. They were convicted in August of hooliganism motivated by religious hatred and sentenced to two years in prison.

"We didn't mean to offend anyone," said Maria Alekhina, who along with Nadezhda Tolokonnikova and Yekaterina Samutsevich spoke in court from inside a glass cage. She said they were protesting at Mr Putin and also the Russian Orthodox Church hierarchy for openly supporting his rule.

"We went to the cathedral to express our protest against the joining of the political and spiritual elites," Ms Alekhina said.


Radical cleric Abu Hamza will face trial in the US next year after pleading not guilty to terrorism charges in a New York court.

Hamza, indicted under the name Mustafa Kamel Mustafa, entered his plea at the Manhattan federal court before US District Judge Katherine B Forrest who set a trial date for August 26 2013.

He touched down in America on Saturday after he was kicked out of the UK following a failed appeal against extradition at the High Court on Friday.

He was jailed in the UK for seven years for soliciting to murder and inciting racial hatred in 2006 and first faced an extradition request from the Americans in 2004.

Hamza has been charged with 11 counts of criminal conduct related to the taking of 16 hostages in Yemen in 1998, advocating violent jihad in Afghanistan in 2001, and conspiring to establish a jihad training camp in Bly, Oregon, between June 2000 and December 2001.

Hamza arrived in court on Saturday without the prosthetic hook he wears in place of one hand and he appeared without the hook again in court on Monday.

His lawyer Sabrina Shroff said then that he needed the hook back "otherwise, he will not be able to function in a civilised manner".


Riot police in Bahrain have fired tear gas and stun grenades during clashes with protesters who broke away from a funeral procession for a 17-year-old boy killed during earlier street battles with security forces in the Gulf kingdom.

Thousands of mourners took part in the funeral march, chanting anti-government slogans and waving Bahraini flags.

Later, smaller groups of several hundred demonstrators broke away and hurled stones at police units.

The death of the boy late on Friday could stir more tensions between forces for the Sunni-led monarchy and groups from Bahrain's Shiite majority seeking a greater political voice.

More than 50 people have died including protesters and police, in almost 20 months of political turmoil in the strategic island nation, which is home to the US Navy's 5th Fleet.

The Shiite-led protests are aimed at breaking Sunni minority rulers' monopoly on power in Bahrain. They started in February 2011 and were inspired by other Arab Spring revolts against authoritarian regimes in the region.


The Pakistani politician who put a bounty on the anti-Islam filmmaker's head has impressed the country's Taliban militants so much that they are taking him off their hit list.

The man behind the "Innocence of Muslims", Nakoula Basseley Nakoula, has put his US home up for sale and gone into hiding since violence erupted over the 14-minute YouTube trailer for "Innocence of Muslims," which also has sparked debate over freedom of expression in the US and in Europe.

Pakistani railways minister Ghulam Ahmad Bilour offered his 100,000 dollar (£62,000) reward on Saturday for anyone who kills Mr Nakoula.

Mr Bilour also appealed to al Qaida and Taliban militants to help eliminate the filmmaker, while Pakistan's government said the bounty reflected his personal view and was not official policy.

The minister belongs to the secular Awami National Party, an ally in the government of President Asif Ali Zardari. His comments drew criticism within his own party, which is considered anti-Taliban and has lost several leaders in the fight against the insurgency.

A Pakistani Taliban spokesman said the minister's views represent the true spirit of Islam, and that, consequently, the insurgents have removed him from their hit list. But while Bilour gets an "amnesty," others in his party are still fair game, he said.

Muslims have been angered by the crude, amateurish film's portrayal of the Prophet Mohammed as a fraud, a womaniser and a child molester. Dozens of people, including the US ambassador to Libya, have died in violence linked to protests over the movie.

Separately, a breakaway faction of the Afghan Taliban announced its own bounty for those behind the film. The group is offering almost £300,000 in gold.