(Reuters) - Homeowners return to an 18-mile (30-km) barrier island off New Jersey's Atlantic coast on Saturday, giving some of them their first view of the devastation wrought by Superstorm Sandy.
Long Beach Island, an enclave of mostly affluent vacation homes, took a direct hit from Sandy, with some homes washed full of sand and seawater and others completely destroyed.
The island, with some 10,000 year-round residents and perhaps 10 times that number in the summer, has been closed to residents except for brief visits to retrieve belongings.
Sandy smashed into the U.S. East Coast on October 29, killing at least 120 people and causing an estimated $50 billion in damage or economic losses. It destroyed homes along the New Jersey Shore and around New York City, cut off electricity for millions of people and knocked out much of the public transportation system.
Days later, protesters were demonstrating in the streets because they were still without power, gasoline rationing was in effect, and commuters struggled all week to get in and out of New York City.
Authorities warned that for coastal communities where thousands of homes were washed away, flooded, or burned to the ground, full recovery would take a long time.
"This is not going to be a short journey," New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said at a news conference on Friday.
And New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, who toured the Jersey Shore on Friday, said that many popular vacation spots will not be fully rebuilt by next summer. "This is our Katrina," he declared, referring to the hurricane that washed out New Orleans in 2005.
As homeowners were to return to Long Beach Island on Saturday, an emergency website operated by towns on the island warned that some areas were still without sewer, water and electric service and the entire island is without gas. (lbieoc.org)
One community, Holgate, on the island's southern tip, would remain closed because it was still too dangerous to enter.
New Yorkers faced their second day of gasoline rationing on Saturday. Under the system, which was introduced in New Jersey last week, cars with odd- and even-numbered license plates can fill up only on alternate days.
Some 28 percent of gas stations in the New York metropolitan area did not have fuel available for sale on Friday, the same level as on Thursday, the U.S. Energy Information Administration said.
On Friday, protesters took to the streets in Oceanside, a community on Long Island, to protest that they were still without power. "Where is LIPA? Where is LIPA?" they chanted. LIPA is the Long Island Power Authority, a state-owned utility.
Some 434,000 homes and businesses in the Northeast lacked power as of Friday afternoon, down from 696,000 the previous day, the Energy Department said.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg said New York City would work with federal authorities to provide electricians, plumbers and carpenters to help fix the worst-hit homes. He said he hoped to get people back into their homes by the end of the year. (Additional reporting by Ernest Scheyder, Dan Trotta, Jonathan Leff and Jeanine Prezioso; editing by Philip Barbara)