Speaking from a mangled boardwalk unlike the memories of his Jersey Shore childhood, Gov. Chris Christie said the Ocean County barrier island was still too unsafe for residents to return to, but vowed a return to normalcy for most of New Jersey on Monday.
"The power will be on, schools will be open, water is safe, gas is available," Christie said as he described what Monday in New Jersey will look like.
"We're ending the power restoration phase," he said. "On Monday, we begin the rebuilding phase."
He pledged all power would be restored Sunday, that the evacuation of Long Beach Island would be lifted Saturday, and gas rationing would end before the new week.
Monday, Christie would begin the discussion of how to rebuild that which is destroyed.
It would be the phase that would be the most frustrating, and take the most time, he said. "I can guarantee it," said the governor, speaking in front of the damaged Funtown Pier of Seaside Park, where nearby dunes had washed away from Hurricane Sandy. He was flanked by local and Ocean County elected officials and law enforcement, from communities such as Seaside Heights and Toms River.
The governor again pledged power would be restored "where it needs to" by Saturday night, saying "some stragglers" might be without power Sunday. He thanked power crews and rescue aid who came from as far away as Alabama, Illinois, Texas.
"If you would have told me, when I woke up Tuesday morning and saw what I saw, that we'd be able to accomplish this all by Monday, I'd have signed up right there," Christie said of the power restoration phase.
That phase is just about over, he said. He said an evacuation order would be lifted for Long Beach Island, but that the barrier island remains unsafe. He gave no date residents' for long-term return to barrier island.
Many barrer island communities today began allowing limited, hour-long access over the closed Route 37 bridge for full-time residents to grab essential supplies. Bellcrest Plaza on Fischer Boulevard in Toms River has been set up as a registration area for those seeking access.
Christie says mayors and local officials are welcome to have a conversation with him if they think areas should be open, but "I give the order and I won't if I don't know it's safe," he said of the barrier island, where thousands of residents of Bay Head, Mantoloking, Lavallette, Ortley Beach, Seaside Heights and Seaside Park and other communities remain displaced.
Christie was asked how these residents that had faced a natural disaster could not be allowed back by officials, thus creating a "man-made disaster."
"That's a bunch of crap," he said. "People need to take a deep breath."
He's grateful the loss of life has been minimal, because people's safety has been paramount, Christie said.
"I'm not going to let people on this island until it's safe" he said of the barrier island.
The governor said sinkholes are all over the barrier island that "have not been determined." He said engineers need to make their assessments first.
“This has been an unimaginable ordeal for many of our residents, but particularly for those on the barrier islands that remained under mandatory evacuation,” said Governor Christie. “As painful as it’s been, it was necessary to protect them from the dangers that Hurricane Sandy left in its wake, including gas leaks and other utility hazards, roads wiped out or heavily damaged and debris scattered across the landscape. We want them to return in an orderly, safe and secure way, so they can begin to take control of their lives and their property.”
Residents are growing increasingly frustrated at the lack of access to the barrier island. Toms River town hall and police headquarters have been flooded with callers looking for answers and demanding access.
"I understand they are frustrated, but they are going to be more frustrated if they come here and get hurt and killed," Christie said.
The governor paused and said, "This is our Katrina."
He said just like a national outpouring assisted Louisiana during Hurricane Katrina, so should national focus not subside from a devastated New Jersey.
"I will not let them forget," Christie said of the federal government, insurance companies and relief organizations. The next phase will help get residents back on their feet, funneling funds to rebuild the infrastructure and making sure insurance companies honor claims.
The Army Corps of Engineers will help rebuild the Jersey Shore, but rebuilding should honor local zoning laws and community-specific wishes, Christie said.
Local and state officials may want to answer the question of whether rebuilding should happen in a place at all, particularly where new inlets have emerged or waterfront has washed away, Christie said, emphasizing such decisions should be answered mostly by local officials.
Many of the effected areas are tourism beacons for the state. Will Jersey Shore icons be ready for next summer?
"If you think summer next year will look like summer last year, it won't," Christie said.
Tourism is important to rebuild, but regarding the revenue, 'it's not going to be good," Christie said of restoring Seaside Heights amusements in time for revenue producing months.
Christie said he wants Ocean County Freeholders and mayors to come to the table and come to a consensus on how exactly to rebuild. "I want to hear what they think is appropriate for the communities," he said.
There are still plenty of short-term issues to address, he said. For one, the evacuation shelter at Monmouth Racetrack is not meant to shelter people for longer than 30 days.
Christie said inside the next 30 days the Housing and Urban Development and other federal agencies may provide apartment and other stable housing for the more than 4,500 evacuees still in shelters statewide.
"They need to return to normalcy," he said.
Christie painted a hard road ahead, that will require the help of New Jerseyans as well as the national stage. He said it would likely be disheartening to see the national focus dim from Hurricane Sandy as the months go on, but that locally it would unwaveringly be a priority and that he'd be "New Jersey's number one advocate."
'We will succeed in this,' Christie said of a rebuilding process that could take years.
"This is a special place for me. This is the shore of my youth...where I grew up...and developed my memories," said Christie of the Seaside Heights and Seaside Park boardwalks. "Being here today is difficult for me, but it only steels my determination."