Gov. Chris Christie said Thursday he expects all New Jerseyans to have power back by early Sunday at the latest, praised utilities' work and cautioned against casting anyone as a villain in the recovery from Superstorm Sandy.
"The villain in this case is Hurricane Sandy," he said.
The governor said the nor'easter that struck the state Wednesday caused only a slight setback to recovery work. Utility crews "worked right through the snowstorm. They are doing a good job," he said during a briefing at a National Guard armory in Somerset.
Christie said winds from the nor'easter were not as severe as feared, and he said the wet snow was a blessing, because it wasn't rain. The new storm appeared to cause little new damage to the already scarred Jersey Shore.
The governor said 167,000 customers lost power because of the overnight storm, adding to the 222,000 who were still without power because of Superstorm Sandy.
"The good news is we have not seen the kind of damage we saw with Hurricane Sandy, so we are confident we will be able to move forward with our recovery efforts," Christie said.
Asked about the performance of Jersey Central Power & Light, which was heavily criticized for its response to Tropical Storm Irene last year, the governor said the utility has done "significantly better" than it did during the last big storm.
JCP&L, the state's second biggest utility, was hit harder by both Sandy and by the nor'easter than the state's largest utility, Public Service Electric & Gas, he said.
"They drew the short straw on this one," he said.
PSE&G said Thursday it expected to have power restored to all its customers by Saturday, one day later than it had projected prior to the snowstorm. JCP&L said it would provide its new timetable later Thursday.
The governor said he believed the public has shown less frustration with the utilities' response to Sandy than it did after Irene because customers had received much more information about restoration efforts. The governor required the utilities to post a timetable for their town-by-town restoration efforts.
Much of the frustration being expressed Wednesday was by customers who had lost power during Sandy, had it restored, then lost it again.
"You get kind of tired of this," said John Monticello of Point Pleasant Beach, who drove to the oceanfront to see whether the 12-foot-high emergency piles of sand that public works crews had plowed to the water's edge had held during the storm. (They did.)
"We lost power last week, just got it back for a day or two, and now we lost it again," he said. "Every day it's the same now: Turn on the gas burner for heat. Instant coffee. Use the iPad to find out what's going on in the rest of the world."
Monmouth and Ocean counties, which took a beating from Sandy, appeared to have received the most snow from the nor'easter: 13 inches fell in Freehold and a foot in Manchester Township. Accumulations were much lower at the coast, but much of it still got 4 inches. The snow covered hulking debris piles that residents had dragged to the curb after Sandy.
At its peak, last week's superstorm left more than 2.7 million utility customers without power.
Christie said the odd-even gas rationing system in most severely affected counties was working well and would remain at least through the weekend.
He said plans were being made to lift the evacuation order on Long Beach Island once mayors there have a plan for the orderly return of residents. Controlled visits by bus were also being planned for the northern Shore, from Berkeley Township to Brick, starting by Saturday.
Christie said three-quarters of New Jersey schools were holding classes, though some had delayed openings Thursday because of the nor'easter.
Wednesday night's storm set back efforts to restore water treatment facilities. Eleven water systems had boil-water advisories on Thursday and five wastewater treatment facilities were not operating properly.
Millions of gallons of untreated and partially treated wastewater continues to flow into New Jersey's waterways as a result of Superstorm Sandy. About 50 million gallons a day of untreated wastewater is flowing into the Raritan River from the Middlesex County Utility Authority's system, according to the Environmental Protection Department. About 250 million gallons of partially treated wastewater is flowing into Newark Bay and New York Harbor from the Passaic Valley Sewerage Commission's system, according to the agency.
Christie said both the Passaic and Middlesex facilities suffered serious flooding damage. Forty-eight towns served by the Passaic Valley authority are under orders to restrict water use.