New Jersey, amusement rides that once crowned a pier in Seaside Heights were dumped into the ocean, some homes were smashed, and others were partially buried in sand.
New Jersey Governor Chris Christie and President Barack Obama toured the state and took in aerial views of the mass devastation aboard Marine 1 Wednesday.
During a helicopter tour, a talk with displaced residents and a walk along a battered street, Obama saw Sandy's massive punch.
From high above, Obama viewed flattened houses, flooded neighborhoods, sand-strewn streets and a still-burning fire along the battered New Jersey coastline. Parts of the New Jersey shore's famed boardwalk were missing.
"We are here for you and we will not forget," Obama said.
Not forgotten, either, were the unspoken political implications of Obama's tour just six days from the election.
Commanding the federal response to the disaster, Obama spent a day doling out hugs, handshakes and promises of military might to help. And he soaked in the praise of one of Republican challenger Mitt Romney's top surrogates, Gov. Christie.
"I cannot thank the president enough for his personal concern and compassion," Christie said with Obama at his side.
In a community center now serving as a shelter, Obama and Christie worked the room. About 50 people have found comfort there while other residents came in and out for a meal, a hot shower or a chance to power up their cellphones. After press left the shelter, Obama passed out White House-emblazoned boxes of M&Ms to the kids.
And in a waterfront neighborhood in Brigantine, northeast of Atlantic City, Obama and Christie walked a lonely street piled with debris.
He encountered a tearful Donna Vanzant, the owner of the marina.
"It'll be ok," the president said, hugging Vanzant. "Everyone's safe, right? That's the most important thing."
In his most formal comments, Obama sought to project leadership in a crisis, delving deep into the details of the federal response. He spoke of steps taken to position generators and water, and to use military planes and navy ships to move assets.
And he said he ordered his staff to follow a "15 minute rule." He said that meant his staff had to respond to any state or local official who calls within that time frame. "If they need something, we figure out a way to say yes," he said.
The federal government, Obama said, is "here for the long haul."
The president's tour guide was Christie, a rising Republican figure who joined Obama on a Marine One helicopter ride over the region.
Obama was equally effusive about Christie, telling residents that "your governor is working overtime" to repair the damage from the storm.
"The entire country has been watching what's been happening. Everybody knows how hard Jersey has been hit," Obama said.
Barrier Islands, Beach Towns Get Direct Hit
New Jersey's delicate barrier islands, long and slender strips of land cherished by generations of sunbathing vacationers and full-time residents alike, are a hazardous wasteland of badly eroded shore, ruined beachfront homes, flooded streets and damaged utilities.
The full extent of the devastation on the island that hosts MTV's "Jersey Shore" began to come into sharper focus Wednesday, and it wasn't a pretty sight. Signs of the good life that had defined wealthy enclaves like Bayhead and Mantoloking lie scattered and broken: $3,000 barbecue grills buried beneath the sand and hot tubs cracked and filled with seawater.
There are people looting this area, and there's no law and order right now. They feel it's their opportunity.
- Peter Green, Brick Township Resident in New Jersey
Nearly all of the homes were seriously damaged, and many were destroyed — no trace of them left.
"This," said Harry Typaldos, who owns the Grenville Inn in Mantoloking, "I just can't comprehend."
New Jersey got the brunt of Superstorm Sandy, which made landfall in the state and killed six people here. More than 2 million customers were without power as of Wednesday afternoon, down from a peak of 2.7 million.
Some parts of the shore might never look the same, said Gov. Christie.
Nearly 48 hours after Sandy made landfall, the most densely populated state in the nation was still very much in a state of emergency.
Most mass transit systems were shut down, leaving hundreds of thousands of commuters braving clogged highways and quarter-mile lines at gas stations. Closed, too, were Atlantic City's casinos. And Christie postponed Halloween until Monday, saying trick-or-treating wasn't safe in towns with flooded and darkened streets, fallen trees and downed power lines.
Nearly 20,000 residents were stranded in Hoboken, just across the Hudson River from Manhattan, amid accusations that officials have been slow to deliver food and water. One man blew up an air mattress and floated to City Hall, demanding to know why supplies hadn't gotten out. Public Safety director Jon Tooke defended the city's response, saying at least 25 percent of Hoboken remained under water and emergency personnel and the National Guard are working round the clock.
On the opposite end of the state, hairdresser Robert Dennis desperately tried to flag a ride out of Atlantic City to work in Pleasantville, several miles away. His car was flooded and taxis wouldn't take him because they can't get back in.
"I'm ready to walk," he said. "I didn't plan on getting stuck. I thought I had my car at a high enough level."
In Little Egg Harbor Township, a coastal community bordering the southern end of Long Beach Island, streets and yards were clogged with battered pleasure craft — and the docks they had been tied to. Residents still had at least 2 feet of water in their homes.
New Jersey has 127 miles of Atlantic Ocean shoreline. Most of the beach destinations, including famed spots like Seaside Heights, Atlantic City and Wildwood, are on barrier islands that range in width from a few hundred feet to a couple miles. The islands are so narrow that bay met ocean during the height of the storm, with water covering entire islands and making a mockery of the sandbags that some had placed around their homes.
Conditions were still too hazardous Wednesday to allow residents back on Long Beach Island, where cars were buried in 5 feet of sand, crews used heavy equipment to clear the roads and National Guard members went door-to-door, checking on residents who stayed.
One bright spot: The newer oceanfront homes built on 35-foot pilings did what they were supposed to do: upper floors remained intact, though many were damaged. About a dozen older homes were swept off their foundations, according to Long Beach Township Mayor Joe Mancini.
Some residents believe that beach replenishment projects that built up dunes protected the southern end of Long Beach Island.
"I felt pretty protected in my house because of all the beach replenishment," said Will Randall-Goodwin, a 21-year-old Rutgers University student who stayed in his family's home through the storm.
Long Beach Island and its northern neighbor still lacked sewer service, water, gas and electricity. The stench of natural gas hung in the air, indicating broken lines.
In Brick Township, as many as 10 homes caught fire during the storm, when they were knocked from their foundations, rupturing gas lines, said Brick Township Police Sgt. Keith Reinhard. Some gas lines continued to burn on Wednesday. In Mantoloking, a car from a kiddie ride on the Seaside Heights boardwalk 10 miles south had washed up and was marooned in the sand.
Peter Green said a neighbor told him she saw a group of youths carrying away golf clubs they had stolen from his wrecked home.
"There are people looting this area, and there's no law and order right now. They feel it's their opportunity," he said.
Police appeared to be doing what they could to protect the damaged multimillion-dollar homes.
A machine-gun carrying police officer patrolled the sand and questioned a group of kids with backpacks, asking if they'd taken anything. They said no, and their father vouched for them.
A passerby then asked the officer, "Is this Mantoloking?"
"It was," came the reply.
Reporting by the Associated Press.
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