“Unthinkable” Damage From Sandy Across Region

Christie says New Jersey could need months to recover

The Jersey Shore is only beginning to come to terms with the staggering amount of destruction wrought by Hurricane Sandy: people stuck in their flooded homes, houses ripped from their foundations, roads washed out and buckled, beaches blown into residential neighborhoods, free-floating boats bobbing on submerged streets, an amusement park swallowed by the sea, fields of debris left by receding waters, hundreds of thousands without power.

Gov. Chris Christie described the devastation as "unthinkable" and said it would take a week or so just to restore power, and at least several months to fully recover.

As he spoke, rescuers, including members of the National Guard, were moving into Toms River and other coastal communities to pull out hundreds of trapped residents. Those missions were continuing into the night.

The governor took a four-and-a-half-hour helicopter tour of the coast on Tuesday, surveying waterlogged communities, including smoldering house fires and boats tossed about like toys. He got out in Belmar, where he met, and hugged, several people left homeless. 

"Governor, I lost everything," Walter Patrickis, 42, told him.

President Barack Obama will join Christie Wednesday to examine the chaos. Christie said he will ask Obama to get the Army Corps of Engineers to the shore as soon as possible to restore beaches, particularly those that protect towns from the Atlantic Ocean.

The scenes of damage were similar across the Philadelphia region, only more scattered: Downed trees tumbled across roofs and roads, low-lying neighborhoods submerged and emptied of people, darkened homes, inoperable traffic lights.

The storm's wrath began early Monday, hours before it officially made landfall southwest of Atlantic City, and continued deep into the night and Tuesday morning. Sandy unleashed high winds, up to 12 inches of rain and record storm surges as it barreled across New Jersey, northern Delaware and Philadelphia before continuing into western Pennsylvania and then north toward upstate New York.

While the eye of the storm drove over the Philadelphia region, its damage was felt for hundreds of miles. New York City and its suburbs suffered extensive flooding, fires, more than a dozen deaths, and widespread power outages.

More than 8 million customers in 20 states lacked electricity, 2.6 million of them in New Jersey and 1.2 million in Pennsylvania.

At last count, there were 45 Sandy-related deaths across the Northeast, 11 of them in New Jersey and Pennsylvania.

They include an Atlantic City woman who died of a heart attack while trying to board an evacuation bus, and 61-year-old William Sword, hit by a falling tree while he cleared debris from his driveway in Princeton Township.

Among the deaths in Pennsylvania are a 62-year-old Berks County man hit by a tree on his porch, an 8-year-old Susquehanna County boy also hit by a tree, a teenager who ran into a fallen tree on his ATV in Northampton County, and a 90-year-old woman outside Philadelphia who is believed to be the victim of carbon monoxide poisoning.

Philadelphia itself emerged from Hurricane Sandy in relatively good shape: bruised and soaked and short of full power, but poised to return to its normal routines.

The city came through "in pretty premium condition, given the severity of the storm," Mayor Michael Nutter said.

There were no storm-related deaths reported in the city, and only a couple hundred people remained in shelters. And while there are still about 65,000 people without power, and many damaged and flooded homes, local government and public schools will resume regular operations on Wednesday.

The mayor praised city firefighters who spent more than three hours battling a fire in a three-story home in the West Oak Lane section of the city and, despite whipping winds, kept it from spreading to other homes.

Nutter appeared relieved at a Tuesday afternoon news conference in which he announced that SEPTA's subway and bus service had already resumed. "This is a spectacular achievement," he said.

SEPTA's regional rail operations will resume Wednesday. PATCO service restarted Tuesday evening. All highways around Philadelphia reopened Tuesday morning.

"The city of Philadelphia," Nutter added, "will reopen for business tomorrow."

Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett said Tuesday evening that the worst of the storm had passed, and that the National Guard would deploy Wednesday to inspect damage.

In Delaware, nearly all residents of flood-prone coastal communities in Kent County heeded calls to evacuate. The Rehoboth Beach and Dewey Beach resort communities were flooded, but there were no confirmed deaths associated with Sandy.

Christie, meanwhile, said it would take at least a day or two for the weather and flood waters to clear before authorities can get a complete handle on the destruction in New Jersey. Continued high winds were keeping power crews from starting in earnest on repairs.

All NJ Transit rail lines were damaged. Bridges were battered and, he said, tracks on the North Jersey Coast Line were washed out. It was not clear when the rail lines would be able to open.

Two dozen small train freight cars were swept by a tidal surge off their tracks and onto an elevated section of the New Jersey Turnpike in Carteret, Christie said.

Amtrak's Northeast Corridor line remained closed as crews worked to clear tracks.

Christie made a plea to private businesses to let workers stay home at least through Tuesday so crews could clear roads strewn with debris, trees and utility poles. He ordered state offices closed Wednesday. He expected most public schools to do the same.

From the air, the battered shore - including the destroyed Seaside Heights amusement piers - looked like the scene of a bombing, Christie said.

"We will rebuild it," Christie said. "But for those of us who are my age, it won't be the same, because many of the iconic things that made it what it was are now washed into the ocean."

He urged residents not to shrink from the massive task before them, and to not let sorrow displace resilience.

"Hang in there," he said. "Tomorrow, recovery begins."

Officials' top priority, Christie said, was trying to rescue people stranded on barrier islands. Amid all of the emergency response, Christie entered a verbal war of words with Atlantic City Mayor Lorenzo Langford over the handling of evacuation efforts in that town.

The city was cut off from the mainland by the storm surge along with other barrier islands, stranding residents who ignored warnings to evacuate.

Meanwhile, Ocean City, N.J. Mayor Jay Gillian asked residents who evacuated the town to stay away while emergency personnel assess the damage. For those who remained in town, he told those people to stay inside as many streets remain under water.

Some residents said jet skis were tossed about during the storm, ending up in the middle of streets. While there was a lot of damage at the bay during high tide, one resident said million-dollar homes on the south end of town were devastated.

Even still, Gillian said things could have been worse.

"We got lucky," he said.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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