WILDWOOD - Sandy had come churning up the coast, crashing into New Jersey as if she'd swerved off some dead-man's curve out in the Atlantic.
Tuesday morning, those who stayed behind on the coast awoke to the storm's wreckage and wasted no time picking up the pieces in the blustery cold.
Some parts of the Jersey Shore were left with sand and debris on the roadways and soggy carpets on the first floor. Others were devastated, losing key tourist attractions that define why they're so unique.
In the Wildwoods, two tired mayors said the same thing: "It could have been worse." Meanwhile Gov. Christie, his voice scratchy from a cold and little sleep, sounded shocked when he said that the "entire Seaside Heights boardwalk is gone."
"The rides are in the ocean," Christie told officials, moments after his New Jersey State Police helicopter landed at a school in Avalon.
Christie got to see what most in the region didn't: the entire swath Sandy cut from Cape May County up to Ocean County. President Obama is scheduled to survey the damage with him Wednesday.
"The further south you go, the better it is," the governor told the people surrounding him in Avalon.
Avalon was the ghost town it was supposed to be. Piles of sea grass stood on the corners and were scattered along the front steps of stately beachfront homes, a sign of how high the water had come. Standing outside the school, some firefighters estimated the water had risen 5 to 6 feet through town. Others said fish were swimming inside the Avalon Fire Department on Monday night.
"We had water where we've never had water before," said Martin Pagliughi, Avalon's mayor and Cape May County's emergency-management coordinator. "Overall, Cape May County was fairly lucky, though."
The same couldn't be said farther north, in Monmouth and Ocean counties or even in Atlantic City, where sections of the famed Boardwalk were torn off by Sandy's wind and waves.
Some Jersey Shore icons survived, including Lucy the Elephant in Margate, her big feet just a little sandier than usual.
The Giant Wheel, the towering Ferris wheel that's visible for miles in Wildwood, still stood Tuesday morning. Rumors that the ride had fallen over had spread through social media on Monday at the height of Sandy's power.
Wildwood Mayor Ernie Troiano Jr., his car parked on a Wildwood boardwalk ramp Tuesday morning, said his city's infamous long beaches had helped, although portions of Pacific Avenue were still flooded.
"Hey, you can't be on the boardwalk," Troiano yelled over a bullhorn to a couple walking a baby in a stroller. "The whole city is closed. You need to go home."
Meanwhile, at the North Wildwood Office of Emergency Management, call after call came in from evacuees who wanted to get back onto the island.
"We're having a meeting around one o'clock," a man who answered the phone there said. "Best I can tell you is maybe this afternoon."
Christie said he was in no hurry to open eastbound traffic to the barrier islands. The Ocean Drive bridge from Avalon to Sea Isle City was closed, piles of sand covering the roadway.
At 6 p.m., Sea Isle City officials said they still could not allow residents to return, and dozens of cars sat on the shoulder of Avalon Boulevard, waiting to get back into their homes and to some sense of normalcy.
But normalcy wasn't easy to come by, even in towns that were spared the worst.
"Oh man, it's my birthday today," said George Greenland, a retired North Wildwood police officer volunteering with the city's Office of Emergency Management, looking down at a text message he just received.
Then Greenland, who turned 59 Tuesday, drove a beach-patrol pickup through town to survey the damage Sandy brought.
"I must have forgotten about it," he said.
Contact Jason Nark at firstname.lastname@example.org or 215-854-5916.