By Faith Karimi, Mariano Castillo and David Ariosto-CNN
NEW YORK (CNN) — Pockets of frustration among cold and hungry residents festered Friday, in the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy, even as other areas sputtered back to life.
The biggest challenges in places like New Jersey and Staten Island — where the majority of New York’s storm-related deaths were recorded — include food and electricity shortages.
Across 15 states and the District of Columbia, utilities reported that about 3.3 million customers remained without power.
And people shivered, their heads peeking out from bulky sweatshirts, waiting hours at stations to fill their gas cans.
Four days had passed since Sandy hit, and survivors pleaded for basic necessities.
In New York City, Donna Solli rode out the storm in her Staten Island home because she has an elderly dog. She told visiting officials she had not had much to eat.
“One slice of pizza in 48 hours,” she loudly told officials in front of a pack of reporters. “We’re going to die … we’re going to freeze. We got 90-year-old people. You don’t understand. You gotta get your trucks down here on this corner now.”
Sen. Chuck Schumer, who was touring the area, described conditions as grim.
“This is the worst thing I’ve ever seen, and it’s killing me what these people have to go through,” said the Democratic senator from New York. “We’ll get whatever federal help we can, that’s for sure.”
Help arrived Thursday night and into Friday in the form of 30 Red Cross trucks filled with food, water and medicine, while nearly 7,000 people spent the night in Red Cross emergency shelters across the region.
The aid group said a massive feeding operation is under way on Long Island, New York, and across the tri-state area, where residents continue to face food shortages.
Some $18 million in federal relief aid has since been dispersed so far in the wake of the storm. Much of it is in the form of rental assistance, which can extend for up to 18 months for those with major home damage.
“A lot of folks who flooded did not have flood insurance,” said said Federal Emergency Management Agency Administrator Craig Fugate. “The lessons were learned from the past is not to wait to see how bad it is.”
Elsewhere, signs of recovery sprouted: trains grinding back to limited service, buses hauling commuters down roads strewn with debris.
Neighborhoods were rising up after being beaten down by a 900-mile-wide superstorm that claimed 165 lives, including 97 in the United States.
Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and FEMA Deputy Administrator Richard Serino will travel to Staten Island on Friday to survey recovery efforts.
Ahead of her visit, Napolitano issued a temporary waiver of the Jones Act, a move that allows oil tankers coming in from the Gulf of Mexico to enter Northeastern ports to relieve fuel shortages.
“The administration’s highest priority is ensuring the health and safety of those impacted by Hurricane Sandy, and this waiver will remove a potential obstacle to bringing additional fuel to the storm-damaged region,” she said.
The move also waives clean air admission requirements, allowing more refined oil to be brought into the region, though where it goes from there is unclear.
“Just getting the product there doesn’t get it to the retail site,” said Fugate. “Many of the gas stations don’t have power.”
The death toll also included two in Canada and 67 in the Caribbean.
Worst-hit New York state suffered 48 deaths, including 41 in New York City, authorities said.
In addition to the human toll, the price tag for total economic damage is stunning: between $30 billion and $50 billion, according to disaster modeling firm EQECAT.
That far exceeds EQECAT’s pre-storm estimate of $20 billion.
In New York City’s borough of Staten Island, the latest deaths included two boys ages 4 and 2, ripped from their mother’s arms by floodwater.
Meanwhile, authorities scrambled to restore basic services, including hobbled transportation.
Amtrak said modified service resumes Friday between Boston and Washington via New York City. In New York City, limited subway service resumed Thursday. A flotilla of 4,000 buses is taking up the slack.
Neighboring New Jersey, which suffered 13 deaths linked to the storm, plans to restore limited rail service Friday.
In areas where entire neighborhoods remain dark, utilities worked to restore services.
New York City had nearly 500,000 customers without power, including 220,000 in Manhattan.
“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 Gov. Andrew Cuomo, in a letter to utilities, warned of consequences if authorities discover 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.
Organizers vowed to hold the New York City Marathon as scheduled Sunday. Event organizer Mary Wittenberg said the race will not divert resources from the recovery, but others worried that recovery efforts could be short-changed.
The superstorm’s wrath also dumped up to 3 feet of snow in West Virginia and Maryland, leaving thousands without power.
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.
A fizzled Sandy, meanwhile, swirled over Canada.
*Click here for more on Sandy’s wrath locally and nationally.*
CNN’s Tom Watkins, Mark Meinero and Melissa Gray contributed to this report.