Along the Jersey Shore, where carefree fun is a source of income, many residents say it will never feel the same. Three days after the massive storm washed over the towns built on the barrier island just off the mainland, the waters are receding, unveiling the magnitude of the destruction.
In Seaside Heights, whose population swells from 3,000 in the offseason to 100,000 on summer weekends, the 16-block boardwalk has by turns buckled, collapsed and been shredded into fragments bristling with rusty nails. A roller coaster that used to sit at the end of Casino Pier now sticks out from the edge of the ocean, like a manhandled Erector Set. Sinkholes have swallowed up entire trucks. Boats and houses have been plunked down in the middle of streets.
To prevent looting, police have sealed off the bridges leading to the island towns and allow visitors to enter only with a police escort. On Thursday afternoon, the solitary sound in the streets was the beep-beep of a Caterpillar in reverse as it pushed aside mounds of beach sand that the storm had deposited in the roadways.
As recovery efforts proceeded in the states struck by Sandy, the nationwide death toll rose to at least 90. New York City officials recorded 38 deaths from the storm, including two Staten Island boys, 2 and 4, whose bodies were found Thursday.
More than 4.6 million homes and businesses remained without power, the Associated Press reported, but many public transportation systems across the Northeast came back to life, at least in part. While many people were able to return to their homes, many others remained stranded or coped with long lines for gasoline and other supplies.
Seaside Heights police estimated that 50 or more residents remained, insisting on protecting their property. Throughout the day Thursday, teams of prosecutors and police officers combed through the ruins of the town, urging those still here to go to the mainland. Officials said nobody would be forced from their homes, so long as they had generators and were on higher ground.
On the mainland, residents in the neighborhoods that have been without power since Monday formed patrols, saying they had seen interlopers making away with possessions that had landed in front yards during the storm. The residents were just as protective of their own dignity, saying they wished the curious would stay away.
“People are coming from out of state,” said Pat Shields, 53, a disabled trucker who lives two blocks from the water in a neighborhood where the water rose so high it spilled into bathtubs. “They say they just want to see it. But what is there to see, except our misery?”