Jason DeCrow, Associated Press
ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. — Gov. Chris Christie said Tuesday that the devastation on the New Jersey shore is "unthinkable" and that the state will likely take months to recover from a massive storm that cut off barrier islands, swept houses from their foundations, washed amusement pier rides into the ocean, closed transportation systems and knocked out power to more than 2 million customers.
"To prepare the public for what they're going to see is beyond anything I thought I would ever see," Christie said at a news briefing. He said he would get a look for himself from a helicopter later Tuesday.
Christie said it would take at least a day or two to get a complete handle on the damage from Sandy, which once was a hurricane but combined with two wintry systems to become a huge hybrid storm just before it made landfall southwest of Atlantic City around 8 p.m. Monday, bringing record storm surges, hurricane-force winds and up to 12 inches of rain. Continued rain and heavy winds Tuesday were making assessing damage more difficult, he said.
The governor made a plea to private businesses to let workers stay home at least through Tuesday so crews could clear roads strewn with debris and toppled trees and utility poles.
Schools and state government were closed for a second day Tuesday. Towns were starting to reschedule Halloween festivities. Christie said the state was even looking at contingency plans for the Nov. 6 election, but he said that given the destruction across the state, that wasn't a priority for him.
Officials' top priority, Christie said, was trying to rescue people stranded on barrier islands.
The governor said 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.
He said the PATH trains connecting northern New Jersey with Manhattan would be out of service for at least seven to 10 days because of flooding at stations in Jersey City and Hoboken.
All the New Jersey Transit rail lines were damaged, he said. Bridges were battered and tracks on the North Jersey Coast Line were washed out. It was not clear when the rail lines would be able to open.
Christie also said attractions at amusement piers in Seaside Heights washed into the Atlantic Ocean.
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 rescued by boats and trucks.
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."
The police and fire departments were themselves flooded. There were no immediate reports of injuries.
Power outages stretched across the state. Christie said there were about twice as many homes and businesses without power Tuesday as there were at the peak of the outages from Tropical Storm Irene, which came ashore near Atlantic City in August 2011. He said all of the state's two largest cities, Newark and Jersey City, were without power.
In Atlantic City, which remained flooded Tuesday morning, several blocks of the first-in-the-nation boardwalk were destroyed by the storm. But a majority of it remained intact. Mayor Lorenzo Langford said floodwaters reached 8 feet in some spots.
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