New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie got his first good look Tuesday at the destruction Hurricane Sandy caused in his state and labeled it "unthinkable."
Christie was reacting to images taken from a New Jersey State Police helicopter that surveyed some of the devastation over several shore towns -- Lavallette and Seaside Heights to name a couple.
"The idea that you see homes in the middle of Route 35 southbound and northbound is just unfathomable," Christie told reporters.
The Garden State took on the brunt of Hurricane Sandy, a storm that made landfill Monday and continues to generate rain and high winds as it slowly churns toward Canada.
More than 3,500 people in New Jersey spent Monday night in one of 23 American Red Cross evacuation shelters across the state, said Diane Concannon, spokeswoman for the organization's Northern New Jersey chapter.
President Obama declared New Jersey and New York disaster areas, clearing the way for federal funding to help residents in damaged areas. The president will tour the state today with Christie.
The number of outages dropped slightly for the first time since Sandy hit. They peaked at 2.7 million earlier in the day Tuesday, but fell to fewer than 2.3 million by late afternoon.
The state's largest utility, Public Service Electric & Gas, restored power to the cities of Newark and Elizabeth and Newark Liberty International Airport. The number of PSE&G customers without power dropped from a high of 1.4 million to 1.1 million. It could take a week or more to restore power to everyone.
On Tuesday, residents across the state of New Jersey began to survey the damage left behind.
After riding out the worst of Hurricane Sandy inside her beachfront townhouse Monday night, Zelphia Connor awoke Tuesday morning and found a gift from the sea: a massive chunk of the city's wooden boardwalk parked in her garage.
"I saw the boardwalk floating down the street but I never knew that it was going to float into my garage," said Connor, 42, a food server at the Bally's casino.
Pieces of the structure ended up scattered across a several-block swath of the neighborhood known as The Inlet.
While several groups of residents walked around the streets and on the mostly abandoned boardwalk, Atlantic City remained in an official state of emergency Tuesday, with a 6 p.m.-to-6 a.m. curfew still in place, city police said.
"The city has not been reopened yet," police spokesman Capt. Frank Rennan said. He said crews were still working to clear roads of debris, remove downed power lines and restore power.
He estimated that virtually the entire city was still without power as of about 5 p.m. Tuesday. He didn't immediately have an estimate of when it would be restored -- or when the curfew would end.
Ocean Towers building manager Richard Payne paused as he dragged a pumping hose toward the flooded garage of the eight-story, beachfront resort where he spent the night, alone, during the height of the storm, and vowed never to do that again.
"I've got to tell you, the next time I hear a hurricane is coming, I'm outta town because of how scary it is," Payne said.
Newark and Hoboken
Raymond and Monica Perez were in Newark just to look out for her 78-year-old grandmother. And then the Passaic River jumped its banks near the Ironbound neighborhood.
The wind had just blown part of the chimney off the house, and falling bricks had smashed the rear window of Perez's Nissan Rogue. Both the car and the house then got flooded. This story is not complete without one more fact: Perez's car lease expires next month.
"That's the killer," he said. "I have to convince the leasing company it wasn't my fault."
On Ferry Street in Hoboken, shoe-store owner Tony Cunha was pumping out his basement Tuesday morning when a neighbor saw his generator and asked to plug in his cellphone.
By midafternoon, the steady stream of people sharing his little power source to juice up the gadgets of everyday life was still coming, about 20 strong at any given time. People hanging out and laughing, because there wasn't much else to do.
"These are our customers," Cunha said.
Nick Rauco, 56, stood across the street contemplating the ruined single-story home his family has lived in since 1959.
"The water came real fast and just filled the house up within 20 minutes," Rauco said. "By midnight there was 3 feet of water in there."
Rauco said he and his family tried to move their belongings to keep them from getting wet, but it was a futile effort as water was coming out of the air ducts in the floor "like a fire hydrant."
"We packed some clothes, grabbed the dog and left," he said.
They went across the street to his aunt's house and watched as the water crept up to her door and stopped. That's where they'll stay until they hear from the insurance company, he said.
Greg Toppo reported from Altantic City, Oren Dorell from Toms River, Gregg Zoroya from Wildwood and Tim Mullany from Newark and Hoboken. Contributing: Mary Beth Marklein and Haya El Nasser.
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