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Long recovery ahead for storm-battered New Jersey

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed. The Associated Press
Wednesday, October 31, 2012 - 8:20 am

BELMAR, N.J. — A day after megastorm Sandy crashed into New Jersey's shore, the massive scope of the storm's devastation became clear — homes were washed off their foundations, beloved landmarks had fallen into the ocean, power was out in every corner of the state, and at least six people were dead.

Gov. Chris Christie warned Tuesday that the recovery would be a long one. New Jersey got the brunt of the storm, and some parts of the shore — a cherished spot for many residents and an economic engine in New Jersey's $35.5 billion tourism industry — might never look the same, he said.

"It won't be the same because some of the iconic things are washed into the ocean," Christie said Tuesday, hours after he'd toured the shore by helicopter and became emotional about seeing the haunts of his youth destroyed.

On the tour, Christie stopped in Belmar, where the town's boardwalk was wrecked and damaged.

"I was just here walking this place this summer, and the fact that most of it is gone is just incredible," Christie told Belmar Mayor Matt Doherty.

Though people jogged and took bike rides Tuesday on the battered boardwalk in Ocean City, just a few miles from where the storm's center made landfall Monday evening, search teams elsewhere continued to rescue people stranded by floodwaters. Some residents hadn't evacuated barrier islands; others were in places where the storm surge came fast and by surprise.

National Guard members in Black Hawk helicopters searched Long Beach Island and the barrier island to its north for any people left behind, Ocean County spokesman Rich Peterson said.

Residents were not allowed on Ocean City, Long Beach Island, and other barrier islands Tuesday and it was not clear when they would be. Atlantic City's casinos remained shuttered and there was no word on when they would reopen.

Guard members arrived in Hoboken late Tuesday night to assist in evacuating residents and delivering supplies to heavily flooded areas in the mile-square city on the Hudson River.

By late Tuesday, roughly 2.1 million homes and businesses were without electricity, down by 500,000 at the peak of the outages. Christie said it would take more than a week for crews to get everyone's power back on. Jersey City was without power; Some sections of Newark, which had also gone dark, had power restored by Tuesday evening.

Most mass transit systems remained shut down.

Meanwhile, the White House announced President Barack Obama had scratched his campaign stops to tour the storm damage in New Jersey on Wednesday.

Towns rescheduled Halloween festivities and Christie said he would sign an order Wednesday declaring another day Halloween this year. The governor said contingency plans also were being considered for Election Day on Nov. 6.

Schools and state government were closed for a second day Tuesday. State government offices were to remain closed Wednesday, as were many schools. Early Tuesday, Christie urged private businesses to let workers stay home for the day unless workers had a clear path in.

Rutgers University canceled classes at its campuses in New Brunswick and Newark for the remainder of the week.

David Anthony and his wife, Ann Felice, both 64, recalled their fearful night, waiting out the storm. The couple were stuck in their house on Barnegat Bay across from Long Beach Island when water began to rise Monday. They went to their upstairs bedroom and tied five bedsheets together, thinking they might need to use them as a rope to escape as the winds and surge pounded the home.

"It was like somebody taking a massive sledgehammer to the wall," Anthony said Tuesday. "I thought we were dead. Even if we did get out the window, the waves were so powerful."

Fear gave way to relief for many New Jerseyans once the storm passed.

"We got lucky," Ocean City Mayor Jay Gillian. "It could have been a lot worse but what we got was something I've never seen before in my life."

When Barry Prezioso returned to his home of 37 years in Point Pleasant to find flood damage, he said he was heartbroken, but also felt fortunate.

"Nobody got hurt and the upstairs is still livable, so we can still live upstairs and clean this out," he said. "I'm sure there's people that had worse. I feel kind of lucky."

The storm swept two dozen small train freight cars off their tracks and onto an elevated section of the New Jersey Turnpike in Carteret. It collapsed roofs in Seaside Heights and partially buried many homes in sand. On the resort community's boardwalk — the one where much of the "Jersey Shore" reality TV show was filmed — parts of two amusement piers fell into the ocean, one taking the landmark Star Jet roller coaster with it.

Brian Hajeski, an iron worker, got his wife, two kids and two dogs inland Monday night, then returned to their house near the bay in Brick Township to retrieve some clothes. Water was lapping up on the driveway when he got there. Fifteen minutes later, the water was a few feet deep and rising as the ocean breached the bay, he said.

"I think I just made it out of there in time," Hajeski said.

Hajeski said the neighborhood smelled of diesel fuel that had apparently spilled somewhere. He saw boats from a nearby boatyard scattered on roads and dead squirrels floating in floodwaters. When he went to nearby Mantoloking in a canoe, he found homes wiped out. "Six or eight were just gone," he said.

Authorities in Moonachie launched a rescue effort after a huge tidal surge sent water over a natural berm in the town of 2,700 about 10 miles northwest of Manhattan. Police Sgt. Tom Schmidt said the rush of water put about 5 feet of water on the streets within 45 minutes. Hundreds of stranded people were taken out by boats and trucks in rescues that lasted through Tuesday.

The area, along the Hackensack River, is usually not prone to flooding. By contrast, spots along central and northern New Jersey's Passaic and Raritan rivers that often flood were not hard hit.

Bergen County Office of Emergency Management Coordinator Dwane Razzetti said people were clinging to rooftops after the first and second floors of their homes flooded.

Moonachie resident Juan Allen said he watched a dramatic creek overflow near his home. "I saw trees not just knocked down but ripped right out of the ground," he said. "I watched a tree crush a guy's house like a wet sponge."