BELMAR, N.J. — New Jersey residents found ways Sunday to adjust to gas rationing in effect from the superstorm, some by ignoring the state's longstanding law against pumping your own gas and others just driving far from home to avoid the rules. And along the shore, people in one town traded kayaks for rainboots as floodwaters finally receded and they returned to their homes to assess damage.
About 1 million homes and businesses across New Jersey remained without electricity Sunday, and many of those customers may not have service restored until Wednesday. The storm has been blamed for 23 deaths in the state and more than 100 overall.
The waters ebbed overnight in the shore town of Belmar and left behind slippery, pungent mud. Many residents were only able to begin pumping out their basements Sunday, six days after the storm overwhelmed the town with a surge that they likened to a tsunami.
A snapping turtle was sitting on the muddy lawn of Chris and Nancy Lukas as they began the grim process of cataloging their ruined belongings. Their home overlooks Silver Lake, where crews have been pumping water from the storm surge back into the ocean.
"We kayaked here yesterday," Nancy Lukas said. "You can't do anything, so you feel useless."
Unlike many Belmar residents, the Lukases heeded an evacuation order ahead of the storm.
"I'm so glad I didn't see that wall of water," Nancy Lukas said. "How do you erase that from your memory? This is bad enough — the aftermath."
The newly passable roads helped bring hundreds to the Church of Saint Rose, where Bishop David O'Connell of the Diocese of Trenton celebrated Mass. Parishioners wore parkas, scarves and waterproof boots as they packed the pews and stood in the aisles of the chilly church. Firefighters, police officers sat in the front rows and drew sustained applause.
Crews have been pumping water out of the church's basement for the past four days. Flooding also ruined classroom space and the cafeteria at the parish high school.
Monsignor Edward Arnister, the church's pastor, was stranded in his home next to the church until Friday. O'Connell visited by kayak Wednesday, but they spoke only by phone.
"He had not mastered walking on the water yet," Arnister said.
O'Connell said at Mass that the community would persevere.
"There's more good, and there's more joy, and there's more happiness in life than there is the opposite. And it will be back," O'Connell said. "And we will be back."
He quoted from the Bible, a letter from Paul: "'We are afflicted in every way possible,' St. Paul writes, 'but we are never crushed.'"
Sunday was also the first full day of gas rationing in the state, which Gov. Chris Christie ordered for 12 counties, saying it would help ease fuel shortages and the long lines at gas stations. It was to remain in place as long as Christie deemed a need for it, which he said he hoped would be no more than a few days.
While long lines again appeared Sunday at gas stations in northern and central New Jersey, drivers seemed to be coping with the rationing.
Drivers with license plates where the last number is an even number can buy gas on even-numbered days, and those with plates where the last number is an odd number on odd-numbered days. Drivers with vanity plates that have no numbers can buy gas on odd-numbered days.
The further south motorists were able to drive, the easier it was to get gas. At a Lukoil station in Lakewood, there were no lines early Sunday afternoon, although station manager Syed Uddin said customers were waiting 30-40 minutes in the morning.
The station was closed Saturday because it ran out of gas Friday. The station sold 15,000 gallons that day, five times what it sells on a typical day, Uddin said.
Some customers were even defying New Jersey's law against pumping your own gas, although Uddin said he was not granting permission to do so. "People, they don't listen," he said.
Lew Thompson of Toms River was pumping his own gas into two plastic canisters so he could power his generator.
"Makes it a little quicker," Thompson said of self-service. "Like the governor said, sometimes you've got to cut through the bureaucracy and get it done."
Lakewood is at the northern end of Ocean County, which meant gas rationing was not in effect as it was in Monmouth County, just a few miles away. Many drivers were heading south to avoid the restrictions.
"The hysteria up there is not worth it," said Bob Rooney of Red Bank.
Tony Jones of Spring Lake, where no stations are open, brought two vehicles to Lakewood to fill up Sunday. He said many people were confused by the rationing, which he thinks has been ineffectual.
"A lot of people don't even understand what odd-even is on their plates," Jones said.
But even in Lakewood, gas lines have been common.
"I sat on line an hour and a half here at this station like four days ago," said Donald Giberson, who lives nearby.
"If everyone complies with this system, it will ease lines and wait times and create a less stressful situation for everyone involved," Christie said Saturday.
Damage and power outages from the storm have made fuel delivery difficult and rendered many gas pumps inoperable. Three fuel depots have been set up in the state to provide up to 15 gallons of gas to doctors and nurses so they can get to work.
About half of the state's school districts reported they will reopen Monday.
New Jersey Transit said it would have more train and bus service restored in time for the workweek to start, and Philadelphia's transit authority loaned 31 buses that New Jersey Transit planned to use to support shuttle service for commuters traveling to New York City.
NY Waterway planned to operate normal ferry/bus service, including service from the Hoboken Rail/Ferry Terminal, starting at 6 a.m. Monday. There was to be no service from Jersey City's Port Liberte terminal, which was damaged severely.
Christie also said Election Day will go on as planned. If a polling place has no power, votes will be cast on a military truck "old school with a paper ballot," he said. He also announced New Jerseyans would be able to vote by email or fax by submitting a mail-in ballot application available on the state website to their county clerks, and returning it by the close of polls Tuesday.
"We will have a full, fair and transparent open voting process," he said.
Zezima reported from Jersey City.