Gov. Chris Christie has drawn a line in the sand between recovery and rebuilding after Superstorm Sandy, saying the long, difficult reconstruction period will begin in earnest next week.
In a briefing Friday that was part pep talk, Christie said the rebuilding would include the restoration of the state's most iconic attractions, but he cautioned that the Jersey Shore won't look the same next summer as it did last summer.
Calling the storm “our Katrina,” the governor said he spent a difficult day visiting the battered area from Sea Bright to Seaside Heights, where he spent his youth, and the place where he has brought his children.
But, he said, “just because we are down today doesn't mean we won't be up tomorrow.”
He warned that rebuilding would take months, or even years, and urged residents to be patient and to persevere.
“I know we will get there because we are tough folks,” he said in the shadow of the partially demolished Seaside Heights boardwalk, which he walked for the first time since Sandy hit. “We don't mess around.”
Christie said he would be meeting with his Cabinet over the weekend to develop an action plan for rebuilding. He said conversations with federal and local officials would precede rebuilding efforts.
As of early Saturday, about 150,000 customers remained without power.
The governor said power would be restored to nearly everyone in the state by Saturday night, and that he would likely decide by early next week whether to end gas rationing, which cut the long lines that formed as a result of many stations in North Jersey losing power and being unable to operate their pumps.
Jersey Central Power & Light had said late Thursday that it wouldn't be able to restore power to thousands who lost their electricity because of Wednesday's nor'easter until next week. But on Friday, it said power would be back to most customers by Saturday night.
The governor said discussions on power issues were held with utility executives late Thursday and early Friday, but he did not elaborate.
He also announced that residents of all of Long Beach Island, except heavily damaged Holgate, would be able to return to their homes Saturday and stay in them if they are inhabitable. He allowed homeowners further north, from Berkeley Township to Brick, to access their homes for a few hours on Friday to grab a few possessions and go.
Eighty percent of schools were able to open by Friday, he said, and even more will be ready Monday.
Christie said he did not know how many people will need long-term housing assistance. He said 4,500 people remained in shelters, and an untold number were staying with friends and relatives.
He said the state still could not put an estimate on the cost of the damage caused by Sandy.
Despite the challenges ahead, he tried to strike an optimistic tone on Friday.
“By Monday morning, when everybody gets up, for the overwhelming majority of the state life will be back to what they perceive as normal - schools will be opened, gas stations will be opened, power will be returned to their homes, the roads will be clear and their water will be clean,” he said. “Then we move into the next phase.”