Parts of the Jersey Shore are “unrecognizable,” Gov. Chris Christie said in Brick Friday afternoon.
Christie and Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno toured parts of Ocean County, including Mantoloking and Bay Head Friday, before coming to a FEMA relief center set up at Emma Havens Young Elementary School in Brick to address the media.
“The destruction the lieutenant governor and I have seen … is just unfathomable,” said Christie. “I’ve driven on Route 35 since I was coming to the shore with my parents as a young child. And you just can’t recognize the place. It is heartbreaking."
“It’s unrecognizable,” he said. “Once you’re able to go there, you will not believe what you see.”
Chritie described walking on Route 35 where sand was piled calf-deep.
“I tell you this because I want you to understand just how destructive this storm was,” an emotional Christie said.
The governor said his immediate priorities going forward will be restoring power, upping fuel supplies and easing lines at gas pumps, getting children back to school and ensuring there is clean water statewide.
Christie said 1.4 million customers statewide were still without power Friday afternoon, down from 2.7 million customers at the height of the storm. He said he expects the vast majority of the state to have power restored by Election Day, next Tuesday, Nov. 6.
Power to Long Beach Island is expected to be restored by Friday night, though power to the Barnegat Peninsula may take much longer to restore, the governor said.
The state is working to obtain specific timelines on when certain areas will be restored, and Christie said his administration would hold utility companies to their estimates.
“No one knows how to pressure people better than I do,” he said.
The state will be prioritizing restoring power to gas station as well as fuel deliveries, some of which will be delivered by the National Guard, the governor announced.
Turning off natural gas lines on the barrier islands was a decision “not lightly” made by state officials, since the gas lines will now be destroyed and have to be rebuilt, said Christie. But continuing fires fuled by open lines made the decision necessary.
Repopulating the barrier islands will take time, he said.
“We’re going to let you on there as soon as we have made it safe for you to be on there,” said Christie, adding that Long Beach Island fared significantly better in the storm than the Barnegat Peninsula and would probably be open sooner.
“It’s not that I don’t want you to go and see your homes,” he said. “It’s that I want you to be safe when you go and see your homes.”
For those whose homes have been destroyed or rendered unlivable by the storm, Christie said FEMA would be providing temporary housing. The federal agency has set up mobile relief centers in Brick and Cape May Point where residents can go to obtain information, make claims and receive assistance.
The Brick relief center is located in the parking lot of Emma Havens Young Elementary School.
Long term goals will be consulting with the Army Corps of Engineers on how to rebuild most areas, and discussing whether some should not be rebuilt, said Christie. Either way, a priority will be ensuring the state’s $38 billion tourism industry is maintained.
Christie said the priorities have shifted from search and rescue missions to “charting a course to rebuilding.”
“And that’s what we’re about to embark upon, all of us together.”