Mayor Michael Bloomberg and the power company said it could be the weekend before the lights come on for hundreds of thousands of people plunged into darkness by what was once Hurricane Sandy.
Bloomberg said it could also be four or five days before the subway, which suffered the worst damage in its 108-year history, is running again. All 10 of the tunnels that carry New Yorkers under the East River were flooded.
Sandy killed 18 people in New York City, the mayor said. The dead included two who drowned in a home and one who was in bed when a tree fell on an apartment. A 23-year-old woman died after stepping into a puddle near a live electrical wire.
"This was a devastating storm, maybe the worst that we have ever experienced," Bloomberg said.
For the 8 million people who live here, the city was a different place one day after the storm.
In normal times, rituals bring a sense of order to the chaos of life in the nation's largest city: Stop at Starbucks on the morning walk with the dog, drop the kids off at P.S. 39, grab a bagel.
On Tuesday, those rituals were suspended, with little indication when they would come back. Schools were shut for a second day and were closed Wednesday, too.
Coffee shops, normally open as close as a block apart, were closed in some neighborhoods. New York found itself less caffeinated and curiously isolated from the world, although by afternoon it had begun to struggle back to life.
Some bridges into the city reopened at midday, but the Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel, connecting Brooklyn to Manhattan, and the Holland Tunnel, between New York and New Jersey, remained closed. And service on the three commuter railroads that run between the city and its suburbs was still suspended.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo said bus service would be restored at 5 p.m. EDT, on a limited schedule but free. He said he hoped there would be full service on Wednesday, also free.
The New York Stock Exchange was closed for a second day, the first time that has happened because of weather since the 19th century, but said it would reopen on Wednesday.
Swaths of the city were not so lucky. Consolidated Edison, the power company, said it would be four days before the last of the 337,000 customers in Manhattan and Brooklyn who lost power have electricity again.
For the Bronx, Queens, Staten Island and Westchester County, with 442,000 outages, it could take a week, Con Ed said. Floodwater led to explosions that disabled a power substation on Monday night, contributing to the outages.
New Yorkers were left without power to charge their iPods and Kindles and Nooks for the subway. Not that there was a subway. People clustered around electrical outlets at a Duane Reade drugstore to power up their phones.
At a small market called Hudson Gourmet, in Manhattan's Greenwich Village, cashiers made change by candlelight and shoppers used flashlights to scour the shelves.
Lee Leshen used the light from his phone to make his selections - three boxes of linguine and a can of tomatoes. His power was out, but the gas in his stove worked, so he could cook. He said he almost never cooks but is learning.
John Tricoli, his wife, Christine, and their 6-year-old twins spent Monday night holed up in their 11th-floor apartment in one of several lower Manhattan office buildings that were converted to condos in the 2000s and have drawn young families. Once the power went off at 7 p.m., there was a major challenge - no TV.
By candlelight, "we colored, we read, we played games - old school," Christine Tricoli said as the family emerged to go on a walk on Tuesday that started with a trek down 11 flights of stairs.
"There was even talking," she said.
The city modified its taxi rules and encouraged drivers to pick up more than one passenger at a time, putting New Yorkers in the otherwise unthinkable position of having to share a yellow cab with a stranger.
Livery cabs and black sedans, normally allowed to pick up passengers only by arrangement, were allowed to stop for people hailing rides on the street.
The landscape of the city changed in a matter of hours.
A fire destroyed as many as 100 houses in a flooded beachfront neighborhood in Queens. Firefighters said the water was chest-high on the street and they had to use a boat to make rescues.
In Brooklyn, Faye Schwartz surveyed the damage in her Brooklyn neighborhood, where cars were strewn like leaves, planters were deposited in intersections and green Dumpsters were tossed on their sides.
"Oh, Jesus. Oh, no," she said.
The chief line of demarcation Tuesday ran through Manhattan's Chelsea section. Above 25th Street, delis did business and traffic lights worked. Below 25th Street, nothing.
For some New Yorkers, the aftermath of the storm stirred memories of the blackout of August 2003, when a cascading power failure in the Northeast left the city without power for parts of two days. This time, as then, there was no sign of looting or widespread crime. Nine people in all were arrested on charges they stole from a gas station, an electronics store and a clothing store in Queens.
But the 2003 blackout was a communal experience, with strangers lounging on stoops and bars blaring music into darkened neighborhoods. This time, people had to stay indoors and wait.
At a darkened luxury high-rise building in lower Manhattan, resident manager John Sarich was sending porters with flashlights up and down 47 flights of stairs to check on people who live there.
He said most people stayed put despite calls to evacuate. One pregnant woman started having contractions, and Sarich said that before the power went out, he nervously researched online how to deliver a baby.
"I said, 'Oh boy, I'm in trouble,'" Sarich said. The woman managed to find a cab to take her to a hospital.
Bloomberg told reporters that the storm deaths were tragic but said the city pulled through better than some people expected, considering the magnitude of the storm.
The mayor said: "We will get through the days ahead by doing what we always do in tough times - by standing together, shoulder to shoulder, ready to help a neighbor, comfort a stranger and get the city we love back on its feet."
Associated Press writers Meghan Barr, Verena Dobnik, Frank Eltman, Tom Hays, Larry Neumeister, Karen Matthews, Alexandra Olson, Jennifer Peltz, Hal Ritter and Ralph Russo contributed to this report.