NEW YORK -- With many residents left homeless after the devastation from last week's storm, New York-area officials began focusing Sunday on another weather-related factor that might make the problems even worse: colder weather that is moving into the region.

In New York, 20,000 to 40,000 people, many of them residents of public housing, will have to find homes, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg said Sunday. Earlier in the day, Bloomberg compared it to the situation after Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans but later seemed to temper his assessment after news that power had begun to flow in some of the hardest hit regions.

Still, he said, at least 20,000 people live in housing where boilers and electrical circuits were severely damaged by the storm surge. Relocating them, he said, will be a daunting task.

"We don't have a lot of empty housing in this city," he said Sunday at a news conference. "We are not going to let anybody go sleeping in the streets or go without blankets, but it's a challenge and we're working on that as fast as we can."

Many residents in New Jersey, on Long Island and in Connecticut face a similar problem.

"This is going to be a massive, massive housing problem," Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said at an earlier news conference with the mayor.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency announced Sunday that it would begin providing transitional housing to those who could not return to their homes. As of Sunday morning, 164,000 residents of Connecticut, New Jersey, and New York had applied for aid and the agency had approved more than $137 million in financial assistance.


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Bloomberg called the cold the "most pressing" challenge in the recovery. The city has opened heating shelters and is passing out blankets to New Yorkers without electricity.

Temperatures throughout the region fell early Sunday into the 30s, and the National Weather Service issued a freeze watch on Sunday for parts of New Jersey, including the coast, where many residents remained without heat. Officials have urged them to head to shelters.

"You can die from being cold," Bloomberg said Sunday. "You can die from fires started from candles or stoves. Please go to the local disaster site. If you don't know where to go, stop a cop on the side of the road and ask."

Adding to the concerns, forecasters now say that a northeaster could move in by midweek, hitting the already battered coastal areas with heavy winds and strong waves. Freezing temperatures are also expected. Though the lights continued to flicker on, including in some hard-hit regions like the Rockaways, as of Sunday, more than 700,000 utility customers remained without power in New York state, including 404,000 on Long Island and 154,000 in New York City.