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New Jersey Digs Out From Sandy’s Deadly Devastation

New Jersey Digs Out From Sandy’s Devastation as Deaths Rise
Wayne Burton surveys the damage to his apartment in Jersey City, New Jersey. Photographer: Emile Wamsteker/Bloomberg

Governor Chris Christie, viewing devastation in northern New Jersey, declared that it was time to “return life back to normal” following superstorm Sandy’s destruction, which brought death to at least 12 in the state.

The Republican rescinded an evacuation order for 11 towns on the southern shore’s barrier islands and sent state police to one of the north coast’s hardest-hit areas, to prevent looting. Sandy smashed entire oceanfront communities Oct. 29 and left millions of residents in the dark.

Emergency workers removed downed trees and pumped out floodwater around the state. About 1.7 million homes and businesses remained without power at 2 p.m. with overnight temperatures forecast to drop below 40 degrees Fahrenheit (4.4 Celsius). Sandy’s hurricane-force winds and flood tides produced one of the worst natural disasters in New Jersey history.

“Now it’s about the next stage of it, which is to return life back to normal,” Christie told Bergen County officials alongside him as they surveyed the damage in the town of Moonachie yesterday. “That’s what we have to do now.”

Limited commuter trains may return to three NJ Transit lines today. Power outages were down from 2.04 million, about half of New Jersey, Oct. 31. Sandy’s winds and floods blacked out about two-thirds of the state as it tore through seaside resort towns and roared into Pennsylvania.

Ruined Mess

Before Christie arrived in Moonachie, on the east side of Teterboro Airport, 35-year-old Michelle Tattoli was clearing her parents’ Lincoln Place house of mattresses, a stroller and toy chest, luggage and a refrigerator -- all of it ruined by floodwaters more than 2 feet (0.6 meter) deep. Her folks were vacationing in Italy and trying to get home, said the resident of Union, about 20 miles away.

“Their whole first floor is basically destroyed,” Tattoli said. “It’s soaked in that disgusting water and it smells like a fish store in there.”

Christie, 50, walked through the neighborhood, where about 100 residents, many in sweatpants or jeans, paused from cleaning up to greet him. As Sandy blasted through, surging waters from the Hackensack River had swept into the town. National Guard troops had joined emergency workers to rescue 1,000 people.

On the state’s northern barrier islands, pounded by Sandy’s surf, state troopers were deployed to keep thieves at bay. Attorney General Jeffrey Chiesa said in a statement that there were no reports of “extensive” looting.

Springsteen Territory

About 30 detectives from the state criminal justice division patrolled in Monmouth County, a coastal area south of New York City that includes Bruce Springsteen’s Asbury Park. The singer/songwriter now lives up the shore in Rumson.

Among the state’s dozen casualties, two were found in Newark, New Jersey’s largest city. The teenage sisters died from carbon-monoxide poisoning caused by the improper use of a generator, according to police and a statement from Mayor Cory Booker’s office.

A Hudson County woman dependent on supplemental oxygen suffocated when the power went out, according to Mary Goepfert, an Emergency Management Office spokeswoman. The victim was found dead by her caregiver.

In Union County, an elderly woman died after falling down stairs in the dark. Other deaths were attributed to drowning and falling trees.

Damage Assessments

Authorities haven’t assessed damage costs and don’t know when those figures may be available, Goepfert said. A day after the storm crashed through his state, Christie called the losses “almost incalculable.”

On the Ocean County island where episodes of the MTV show “Jersey Shore” have been shot, the Seaside Heights boardwalk lay in ruins, its roller coaster partially submerged.

Authorities blocked residents who had fled from returning to their wrecked homes. Some of the houses had been consumed by fire as recently as yesterday, when natural-gas lines ruptured.

In all, 6,300 people, many from barrier islands between the Atlantic Ocean and Barnegat Bay, along the state’s central coast, remained in state-run shelters yesterday. Residents of 11 towns on barrier islands in Cape May and Atlantic counties, where damage wasn’t as severe, were allowed to return home.

Casino executives in Atlantic City, the second-largest U.S. gambling center, trailing only Las Vegas, sought to reopen today. Christie, who toured affected areas by helicopter with President Barack Obama Oct. 31, said he couldn’t estimate when the venues might reopen. Power was still out in some city neighborhoods and a boil-water advisory remained in effect.

Recovery Hurdles

“There’s a variety of problems,” Christie told reporters at a briefing in Moonachie. “We have to get over the power hurdle and the water hurdle first.”

Atlantic City, with about 40,000 residents, has been central to Christie’s economic-revival strategy since he took office in January 2010. Cleaning and repair crews cleared debris and shattered pieces of the boardwalk, America’s first raised wooden oceanside promenade, from streets as bulldozers plowed sand into dirty brown piles.

“I never thought it was going to be like this in a million years,” Philip Weinberg, the 58-year-old owner of Mel’s Furniture on Atlantic Avenue, said inside his store. Floodwaters ruined his carpets and a new heating system. He hired local residents to pull up the carpet and stack its pieces outside in 5-foot-high piles.

Romney Surrogate

Following their flyover, Christie praised Obama, a Democrat, for his administration’s response to the storm. The governor has often been a surrogate for Republican Mitt Romney, Obama’s White House challenger on Nov. 6.

“We’re going to be here for the long haul,” Obama said at the Brigantine Beach Community Center near Atlantic City. “We’re not going to tolerate any bureaucracy.”

The Pentagon is flying in 17 planes, packed with more than 600 tons of power-restoration equipment, vehicles and crews to run them, from California. The flights are a response to requests from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, according to Defense Department spokesman George Little.

The equipment includes 62 trucks and 10 civilian experts from Southern California Edison, a utility based in Rosemead, near Los Angeles. The aid was due to arrive on board five C-5 and 12 C-17 cargo planes yesterday at the Stewart Air National Guard base in Newburgh, New York, Little said.

Trains Resume

Sandy damaged 25 percent of the rail cars operated by NJ Transit, Christie said. The organization runs the biggest statewide public-transportation network in the U.S. Limited service was expected today on the Northeast Corridor, North Jersey Coast and Raritan Valley lines, according to a statement from Christie’s office.

Drivers from New Jersey faced hour-plus delays at Manhattan bridges yesterday as police at checkpoints turned away cars with fewer than three passengers. New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg imposed the requirement to reduce congestion in the city, where buses replaced subways and more commuters drove to work since trains were knocked out by Sandy. The mayor is founder and majority owner of Bloomberg News parent Bloomberg LP.

Many New Jersey gasoline stations were shut by power outages. Those that remained operating drew blocks-long lines of customers seeking to fill their tanks, to keep vehicles and generators running.

Diesel Spill

About 200 emergency responders were cleaning up a diesel-fuel spill, estimated at 336,000 gallons, in Arthur Kill, the waterway between New Jersey and New York City’s Staten Island, according to Larry Ragonese, a spokesman for the state Environmental Protection Department. Sandy’s storm surge raised and ruptured a tank, he said.

In Little Egg Harbor, about 10 miles north of Atlantic City, major damage was done to about 50 of the 130 vessels at Great Bay Marina, according to Tom Paxton, 64, who’s owned the business for decades and lives on the property. All of his 139 slips were damaged, if not destroyed, he said.

“We have a good bunch of volunteers, and they’re cleaning up,” Paxton said. As he spoke, his voice choked up and he put his arm on his gray pickup truck for support. His daughter, Jackie Paxton Adams, 28, hugged him.

“We’ve been here 40 years, got through a few hurricanes and we never had any idea this could happen,” Paxton said, after a pause.

On East Bay Avenue in Barnegat, 15 miles north, Scott Nevins, 38, got 18 inches of water in the garage of his three-story house. Next door, a one-story home’s foundation was gone.

“I’m more than thrilled, compared to what happened to other people,” he said.

In Hoboken, across the Hudson River from Manhattan, floodwaters that were as high as 4 feet after the storm had mostly receded by 8 a.m. yesterday in the western section of the city. National Guard troops that arrived Oct. 31 had evacuated thousands trapped in their homes in that area.

“We had 42 inches of water in our garage,” said David Long, 35, as he paused in a walk down Clinton Street looking for something that had sailed away from his home with the floodwaters. “It may be at sea by now.”

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