There were some signs of progress in the recovery effort. Local power company officials, aided by crews from nine states, estimated that they had restored electricity to about 500,000 New Jersey residents. For some, though, the wait for power was expected to stretch as long as 10 days.
There were no reports of widespread looting in the state.
Hoboken residents in some of the more heavily flooded neighborhoods trickled out of their homes — knapsacks, duffel bags, children and dogs in tow — heading by foot to drier land in Jersey City.
Thousands of other Hoboken residents stayed either because they had nowhere to go or because getting out was too difficult. They wandered the streets or drifted toward the handful of working generators so they could charge their cellphones and try to reestablish a connection with the outside world. The historic clocks that line Washington Street, the main thoroughfare, all showed the time as 9:03 p.m., when the city lost power Monday.
This once-gritty industrial city has become a haven for younger professionals seeking a cheaper alternative to Manhattan. In Hoboken’s neighborhoods, they mix with immigrants and older residents who came to the city decades earlier to work in its factories.
Inside the darkened City Hall, built in the 19th century, a volunteer operation took shape, with young people lining up to pick up flashlights and addresses where older residents might need help.
“Can I have the Spanish-speaking people raise their hands,” a volunteer coordinator shouted. “It is very hectic right now.” She warned them to be careful if they were compelled to wade into water above their knees.
The volunteers became the first contact for many stranded residents.
“Good afternoon. Can I have your attention, please?” volunteer Tom O’Connor called into a loudspeaker in the lobby of a Bloomfield Street apartment building whose residents were elderly people on fixed incomes.
O’Connor, an international sales consultant, had come to ensure that the building’s water was still potable and available on the higher floors. Many residents were furious at the conditions in the building.
“The elevators are dark,” said Frank Bongiorno, 80, who walked down 13 flights of stairs to the flooded street in search of somewhere to charge his cellphone. “We’ve got a lot of people on respirators here. Why are they doing this?”
National Guard Humvees ferried evacuees to City Hall, from which residents were taken to shelters or were able walk to Jersey City to find friends or relatives who could take them to a safer, drier place.
Wilbert Rivera, who has survived on disability for four years, sat on the curb near City Hall. The 46-year-old native Puerto Rican rolled up his right pant leg to show a swollen knee and complained that he was in pain. He and his neighbors finally got through on 911 late Wednesday afternoon, and the National Guard rescued him from his flooded block.
“Gout,” he said, pointing to his throbbing leg. “Waiting to hospital, please.”
Jaffe reported from Washington. Alice Crites in Washington and Carol Morello in Toms River contributed to this report.