The Atlantic storm Sandy left a landscape of devastation across much of New Jersey, tearing apart seaside resort towns, ripping houses from foundations and cutting electricity to about two-thirds of homes and businesses.
Six people died in the state because of the storm, and search-and-rescue teams are trying to reach stranded residents, according to police and Governor Chris Christie, 50, who spoke last night at a news conference in West Trenton.
In Atlantic City, the second-largest U.S. gaming center, parts of the iconic boardwalk washed into the streets. The barrier island towns of Lavallette, Ortley Beach and Seaside Heights were “nearly completely under water,” Christie said, as was Moonachie, near New York. A 7-foot pile of debris and two dozen rail cars were cleared from the New Jersey Turnpike and the roadway reopened.
The governor said a four-hour helicopter tour, with stops near beach areas, had left him shaken, as residents’ stories of losing everything blended with his own sadness over ruined boardwalk amusements, such as the log flume in Seaside Heights.
“When you’re talking to people in Seattle, Washington, or Kansas City, or Texas, there seems to be always people you run into who have some memory of the Jersey shore, have some experience at the Jersey shore, at some time in their lives, and they talk about the same type of iconic images from the Jersey shore,” he said. “It will be disorienting for a lot of folks and disappointing to see a lot of those go away. I hope many of them will be replaced.”
President Barack Obama will join Christie today in New Jersey, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said in a statement. The governor and president will speak with first responders and people affected by the storm, he said.
NJ Transit, the third-largest bus, rail and light-rail transportation system in the U.S., with almost 223 million passenger trips annually, remains out of service everywhere but Camden, according to a news release from Christie’s office.
“NJ Transit’s rail operations center -- the central nervous system of the railroad -- is engulfed in water, which has damaged backup power supply systems, the emergency generator and the computer system that controls the movement of trains and power supply,” the release said.
Christie, a campaign surrogate for Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, praised Obama for declaring a “major disaster” in the state, clearing the way for immediate federal assistance to eight storm-damaged counties. Christie said he didn’t care about presidential politics with Election Day a week away.
“I don’t give a damn about Election Day. It doesn’t matter a lick to me,” he said. “At the moment I have much bigger fish to fry than that and so do the people of the state of New Jersey. So let the politicians who are on the ballot worry about Election Day. It’s not my problem.”
The power failure was New Jersey’s largest to be caused by a storm. About 2.6 million homes and businesses in the state were without electricity, twice the number affected by Hurricane Irene in August 2011, according to the U.S. Department of Energy. Jersey City, across the Hudson River from Manhattan, and Newark, the state’s largest city with 277,000 residents, suffered total power losses, Christie said.
“Our state woke up today to absolute devastation,” Christie said at an earlier press briefing yesterday. “There are no words to describe what’s been New Jersey’s experience over the last 24 hours, and what we’ll have to contend with over the coming days, weeks and months.”
‘Gushed So Fast’
Parts of Moonachie were turned into a lake. Gas stations and restaurants were flooded. Water was knee deep on Moonachie Avenue. Magazines, bottles and clothing floated nearby.
About 1,500 people from Moonachie and nearby Little Ferry went to a shelter at Bergen County Technical High School in Teterboro. Many had been rescued after a tidal surge pushed the Hackensack River over its banks. They crowded into National Guard trucks and school buses carrying garbage bags filled with clothes, stuffed animals and other belongings.
Brian Sinclair, 54, of Little Ferry said his first floor was submerged.
“It was like the water got shot out of a cannon, it gushed so fast,” he said as he walked his dog.
Jackie Garcia, 45, standing outside the shelter with her husband and 15-year-old son, said the water started flowing into their house in Little Ferry about 9 p.m. Oct. 29.
By the time they were rescued by a National Guard truck this afternoon, the water inside was 6 feet deep.
“It was gushing,” Garcia said. “The refrigerator and washer were floating.”
About 4,500 residents were in New Jersey shelters, Christie said, down 1,000 people from earlier yesterday.
On one street in Maplewood, west of New York City, Joe Anello, 27, from Glen Ridge-based Trusty Tree, examined damage where five trees hit five houses.
“We can’t get the cranes out of Glen Ridge -- there is so much damage we can’t even make it to the end of the block,” Anello said as he looked at an oak that had displaced the sidewalk and crushed the roof of an 80-year-old Tudor Revival. “You try to prioritize. But there is so much that it’s pretty much first come, first served.”
In Atlantic City, a repair crew was assessing the damage to Caesars Atlantic City Hotel & Casino on Pacific Avenue, where white square sections of the roof had blown off. A chunk of tan siding the size of a house door came off the Trump Plaza hotel, and a broken water line there flooded Missouri Avenue.
“I’ve never in my life seen water like that,” said Yolanda French, of Atlantic City, as she shopped at a convenience store called Food4Less. “I was so, so scared.”
She couldn’t get out of the city and rode the storm out with her two daughters, Sydney, 17, and Porsha, 21.
Their apartment complex doesn’t have power.
“It’s so cold in the apartment, I got to use the stove for heat,” she said.
Part of the Atlantic City boardwalk crashed into Celphia Connor’s garage. A 10-foot wooden ladder, a large white cooler and Christmas ornaments that didn’t belong to her added to the debris, said Connor, 42.
“I never expected that my garage and all my neighbors’ garages would be caved in from all the water and boardwalk,” she said.
At The Ocean apartments along the Atlantic City beach, some of the 100 residents used two black charcoal grills in the vented basement parking garage to make community meals of hot dogs and chicken.
“The city said they aren’t coming out until they clear the city streets,” resident Tamara Barley, 29, said in an interview from the building’s main lobby. Barley said she remained with her two children, Tyjur, 9, and Mahrod, 7, because she didn’t have anywhere to go.
Ainalem Siyoum, 48, said the city abandoned the tenants. “Nobody came to get us,” she said of why many didn’t evacuate.
In Ocean County, Esther Sarabella of the Shelter Cove section of Toms River, just inland from Seaside Heights, said that at the start of the storm, high water from the Barnegat Bay trapped her and her 78-year-old mother in their Range Rover. They climbed out the windows.
“Being stuck in that car was the scariest moment of my life,” Sarabella said yesterday. “You think you’re going to drown, there’s not a soul around you and you don’t know how you’re getting out.”
In Ocean City, power lines and telephone cables were dangling in many neighborhoods. A candy machine lay on its side near Ocean Avenue, after floating two blocks from its original position on the boardwalk. Sand was inches deep on roads. Police blocked the only bridge into town.
Marie Repici, 81, owner of a building housing a hat shop and two restaurants, including her own, the Chatterbox, rode out the storm and watched as water crept into the building. She lives above the Chatterbox, two blocks from the Ocean City boardwalk. During the storm, she and her children and grandchildren tried to keep out the water with sandbags, old beach towels and “anything we could find,” Repici said.
Despite their efforts, more than a foot of water flooded the restaurant, warping the wooden booths and leaving dark watermarks on pink walls. A brown film marred a glass display case that had been stocked with candy.
“This is the worst it’s ever been,” Repici said as her grandsons cleaned up around her.
Two doors down, a fallen 35-foot pine tree damaged a home’s second-story porch. At a Dunkin’ Donuts on 10th Street, a 15-foot wide freezer was pulled off its foundation and dropped on its side.
Sections of Wildwood, a barrier island about 30 miles (48 kilometers) from where Sandy made landfall, remained underwater and businesses were sandbagged. Streets were covered with seaweed and debris and water bubbled up through manhole covers.
Judy Simpson, 52, took a bicycle ride to survey the damage in Wildwood. She said she was the sole resident of her Dock Street neighborhood, where her house is raised on pilings, to ignore orders to evacuate by 4 p.m. Oct. 28.
“Mother Nature is very violent when she wants to be,” she said. “I think it could have gotten a lot worse. We were lucky here.”
In Cape May, buildings and homes along the Atlantic Ocean and Delaware Bay sides appeared to have little damage, aside from some fallen siding and wet basements. Some streets were flooded and others covered with sand.
The storm took a toll on the shoreline, eroding the beach on the Delaware side and creating a six-foot wall of sand.
Some residents said they hadn’t felt the need to evacuate.
“Going through Irene and not having any real damage, it made us feel like we could survive,” said Marta Kulkowitz, 28, who manages a family restaurant in Cape May called the Mad Batter. It will be open for breakfast today.