Christie: Devastation at NJ shore 'unthinkable'

ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. - October 30, 2012

Sandy is being blamed for six deaths in New Jersey.

Princeton Township police say 61-year-old William Sword was found trapped beneath a tree which fell as he cleared debris from his driveway Monday night.

Meanwhile, 69-year-old Joseph Godleski of South Hackensack was pulled from the Hackensack River, which overflowed and swamped two towns. The body was recovered Tuesday.

Mendham Township police say 54-year-old Richard Everett of Randolph and his 48-year-old wife, Elizabeth, were killed and their two sons were injured when a large tree fell on their pickup truck Monday night.

Hawthorne police say a 77-year-old borough man was killed when a tree crashed into his house in the Passaic County community. And an Atlantic City woman had a heart attack while she was being evacuated Monday.

Gov. Chris Christie warned Tuesday that the recovery would be long for a state that got the brunt of the storm and said that some parts of the shore - a cherished spot for many of the state's residents and an economic engine as a major part of New Jersey's $35.5 billion tourism industry - might never look the same.

The day brought a return to normal in small ways, such as people taking jogs and bike rides on the battered boardwalk in Ocean City just a few miles from where the center of the storm made landfall Monday evening.

But there were more signs that things would not be completely normal for some time.

Throughout the day, search teams were rescuing people stranded by floodwaters, either because they didn't evacuate barrier islands or because they were in places where the storm surge came fast and by surprise. National Guard members in Black Hawk helicopters searched Long Beach Island and the barrier island to its north for people who may have been left behind, said Rich Peterson, Ocean County spokesman.

Residents were not allowed on barrier islands such as Ocean City and Long Beach Island, and it was not clear when they would be. There was no word on when Atlantic City's shuttered casinos would be allowed to reopen.

By late afternoon, 2.3 million homes and businesses were without electricity, down 400,000 from the peak, but still so many that Christie said it would take more than a week to get everyone restored. Jersey City was without power, while some sections of Newark had power.

Most mass transit remained shut down, too.

The White House announced that President Barack Obama was scratching campaign stops and would come to New Jersey on Wednesday to see the damage.

Towns were rescheduling Halloween festivities. The governor said contingency plans were being considered for Election Day on Nov. 6, but that the devastation was so deep that politics and voting details were not yet a priority for him.

Schools and state government were closed for a second day and Christie urged private businesses to let workers stay home Tuesday unless workers had a clear path in. Some schools called off classes for Wednesday, and Rutgers University canceled classes at its campuses in New Brunswick and Newark for the remainder of the week.

Christie, member of his cabinet and a few journalists took a helicopter tour Tuesday of the state's shoreline to see the destruction firsthand.

One of the stops was in Belmar, a town where the boardwalk was wrecked and damage was widespread.

"I was just here walking this place this summer, and the fact that most of it is gone is just incredible," Christie told Belmar Mayor Matt Doherty.

As the storm bore down on the New Jersey's shore, fear built.

David Anthony and his wife, Ann Felice, both 64, were stuck in their house on Barnegat Bay across from Long Beach Island when water began to rise Monday. They went to their upstairs bedroom and tied five bedsheets together thinking they might need to use them as a rope to escape as the winds and surge pounded the home.

"It was like somebody taking a massive sledgehammer to the wall," Anthony said Tuesday. "I thought we were dead. Even if we did get out the window, the waves were so powerful."

As destructive and frightening as the storm was, the fear gave way to relief after it passed. "We got lucky," Ocean City Mayor Jay Gillian. "It could have been a lot worse but what we got was something I've never seen before in my life."

When Barry Prezioso returned to his home of 37 years in Point Pleasant to find flood damage, he said he was heartbroken, but also felt fortunate. "Nobody got hurt and the upstairs is still livable, so we can still live upstairs and clean this out," he said. "I'm sure there's people that had worse. I feel kind of lucky."

The storm adhered closely to the predicted path, though it sped up in the hours before it made landfall on Monday. But the destruction took residents and officials by surprise - both by how swiftly and violently it came and how areas not prone to flooding were slammed by tidal surges.

The storm swept two dozen small train freight cars off their tracks and onto an elevated section of the New Jersey Turnpike in Carteret. It collapsed roofs in Seaside Heights and partially buried many there homes in sand. On the resort community's boardwalk - the one where much of "Jersey Shore" was set - parts of two amusement piers were dumped into the ocean, including the Star Jet roller coaster on one of them.

Brian Hajeski, an iron worker, got his wife, two kids and two dogs inland Monday night, then returned to their house near the bay in Brick Township to retrieve some clothes. Water was lapping up on the driveway when he got home after 10 p.m. When he went to leave, 15 minutes later, he said, water was a few feet deep and rising as the ocean breached the bay.

"I think I just made it out of there in time," he said.

The neighborhood, he said, smelled of diesel fuel that had spilled. He saw boats from a nearby boatyard scattered on roads and dead squirrels floating in floodwaters. When he went to nearby Mantoloking in a canoe, he found that homes had been wiped out. "Six or eight were just gone," he said.

Authorities in Moonachie launched a rescue effort after a huge tidal surge sent water over a natural berm in the town of 2,700 about 10 miles northwest of Manhattan. Police Sgt. Tom Schmidt said the rush of water put about 5 feet of water in the streets within 45 minutes. Hundreds of stranded people were taken out by boats and trucks in rescues that lasted through Tuesday.

The area, along the Hackensack River, is one that's usually not prone to floods. By contrast, spots along central and northern New Jersey's Passaic and Raritan rivers that are accustomed to flooding were not hard hit this time.

Bergen County Office of Emergency Management Coordinator Dwane Razzetti said people were clinging to rooftops after the first and second floors of their homes flooded.

Moonachie resident Juan Allen said he watched a dramatic creek overflow near his home. "I saw trees not just knocked down but ripped right out of the ground," he said. "I watched a tree crush a guy's house like a wet sponge."


Zezima reported from Ocean City. Associated Press writers David Porter in Moonachie, Samantha Henry in Jersey City, Wayne Parry in Elizabeth, Maryclaire Dale in Stafford and Geoff Mulvihill and Larry Rosenthal in Trenton, photographer Julio Cortez in Brick Township and videographer Bill Gorman in Point Pleasant contributed to this report.

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