Christie sees 'absolute devastation,' at Shore and beyond

EWING -- Gov. Christie described “absolute devastation” on the morning after Hurricane Sandy slammed the Jersey Shore: 2.4 million households without power, two dozen empty rail cars washed onto an elevated part of the New Jersey Turnpike, homes lifted to nearby highways, and a roller coaster or log flume from the Seaside Park amusement pier floating in the Atlantic Ocean.

“There are no words to describe what so many New Jerseyans experienced over the last 24 hours and what they’ll have to contend with over the coming days, weeks or months,” Christie said at a morning news briefing at state police headquarters in Ewing.

There are 5,500 people in shelters, so far, and the National Guard is undergoing search-and-rescue missions from the small Bergen County borough of Moonachie, where a natural berm was overwhelmed by a tidal surge, to Atlantic City, where residents stayed behind in their homes and at flooded city shelters.

Three deaths have so far been reported, including parents in Christie’s hometown of Mendham who were killed by a falling tree. Their children, ages 11 and 14, were injured.

The power failures stretch across the state and already have affected twice as many people as were affected by Hurricane Irene. Ninety-one health-care facilities are without power.

Full restoration may take longer than a week, he said, but crews have been brought in from as far away as Texas and Canada to help out.

Roadways are closed throughout the state, although the Garden State Parkway and parts of the turnpike have been reopened.

The most striking incident on the turnpike occurred when 24 small rail cars near Exit 12 were carried by tidal surge onto the elevated roadway on the northbound side. Elsewhere, there are seven-foot piles of debris on the turnpike.

Christie spoke somberly about fresh pictures shot from a state police helicopter over the Jersey Shore this morning.

“The damage at the Jersey Shore is unthinkable,” Christie said.

In Ocean County, Christie saw houses lifted off their foundations and dropped into the middle of Route 35.

“To prepare the public for what they’re going to see is beyond anything I thought I would ever see,” Christie said. “Terrible.”

Christie will take a state police helicopter over the Jersey Shore today to survey damage himself.

He is considering issuing an executive order to postpone Halloween until later in the week to ensure that children aren’t trick-or-treating around areas with downed trees and live wires.

“We want Halloween, but we also want kids to be safe and alive,” he said.

Christie praised President Obama both at this morning’s briefing and during a flurry of national TV appearances he did early in the day. The men spoke three times yesterday, and Obama woke up Christie with a midnight phone call. “Which is fine – he gets to,” he said

“The president has been all over this and he deserves credit,” Christie said on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe.” “It’s been very good working with the president and his administration…it’s been wonderful.”

As for the presidential election next Tuesday, Christie said at the press conference: “I don’t give a damn about Election Day; it doesn’t matter a lick to me at the moment. I’ve got much bigger fish to fry, as do the people of New Jersey.”