MANTOLOKING, N.J. (AP) — New Jersey’s delicate barrier islands, long and slender strips of land cherished by generations of sunbathing vacationers and full-time residents alike, are a hazardous wasteland of badly eroded shore, ruined beachfront homes, flooded streets and damaged utilities.

The full extent of the devastation on the island that hosts MTV’s “Jersey Shore” came into sharper focus Wednesday, and it wasn’t a pretty sight. Signs of the good life that had defined wealthy enclaves like Bayhead and Mantoloking lie scattered and broken: $3,000 barbecue grills buried beneath the sand and hot tubs cracked and filled with seawater.

Nearly all the homes were seriously damaged, and many were destroyed — no trace of them left.

“This,” said Harry Typaldos, who owns the Grenville Inn in Mantoloking, “I just can’t comprehend.”

New Jersey got the brunt of superstorm Sandy, which made landfall in the state and killed 14 people in it. More than 2 million customers were without power as of Wednesday afternoon, down from a peak of 2.7 million.

In New York, signs of life began to return to the city Wednesday, as residents and officials began the long slog back to normalcy.

Flights resumed, but slowly. The New York Stock Exchange got back to business, but on generator power. And with the subways still down, great numbers of people walked across the Brooklyn Bridge into Manhattan in a reverse of the exodus of 9/11.

The view of storm damage over the Atlantic Coast in Seaside Heights, N.J., Wednesday, Oct. 31, 2012, from a helicopter traveling behind the helicopter carrying President Obama and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, as they viewed storm damage from superstorm Sandy. (photo credit: Doug Mills/AP/Pool)

The view of storm damage over the Atlantic Coast in Seaside Heights, N.J., Wednesday, Oct. 31, 2012, from a helicopter traveling behind the helicopter carrying President Obama and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, as they viewed storm damage from superstorm Sandy. (photo credit: Doug Mills/AP/Pool)

Swaths of the city were still without power, and all of it was torn from its daily rhythms.

At luxury hotels and drugstores and Starbucks shops that bubbled back to life, people clustered around outlets and electrical strips, desperate to recharge their phones. In the Meatpacking District of Manhattan, a line of people filled pails with water from a fire hydrant. Two children used jack-o’-lantern trick-or-treat buckets.

As far west as Wisconsin and south to the Carolinas, more than 6 million homes and businesses were still without power, including about 650,000 in New York City, Mayor Michael Bloomberg said.

Across the river in New Jersey, National Guardsmen in trucks delivered ready-to-eat meals and other supplies to heavily flooded Hoboken and rushed to evacuate people from the city’s high-rises and brownstones. The mayor’s office put out a plea for people to bring boats to City Hall for use in rescuing victims.

But the badly-hit shore remained all but cut off. Some parts of the area might never look the same, Gov. Chris Christie said.

People wait to use a pay phone on Bright Beach Avenue, Wednesday, Oct. 31, 2012, in the Brooklyn borough of New York. People in the coastal corridor battered by superstorm Sandy took the first cautious steps Wednesday to reclaim routines upended by the disaster, even as rescuers combed neighborhoods strewn with debris and scarred by floods and fire. (John Minchillo/AP)

People wait to use a pay phone on Bright Beach Avenue, Wednesday, Oct. 31, 2012, in the Brooklyn borough of New York. People in the coastal corridor battered by superstorm Sandy took the first cautious steps Wednesday to reclaim routines upended by the disaster, even as rescuers combed neighborhoods strewn with debris and scarred by floods and fire. (John Minchillo/AP)

The governor joined President Barack Obama aboard Marine One on Wednesday afternoon for an aerial tour of the storm damage along the shore, the economic engine that powers New Jersey’s $35.5 billion tourism industry.

“We are here for you,” Obama said in Brigantine, N.J. “We are not going to tolerate red tape. We are not going to tolerate bureaucracy.”

President Barack Obama is greeted by New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie upon his arrival at Atlantic City International Airport, Wednesday, October 31, 2012, in Atlantic City, New Jersey (photo credit: Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP)

President Barack Obama is greeted by New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie upon his arrival at Atlantic City International Airport, Wednesday, October 31, 2012, in Atlantic City, New Jersey (photo credit: Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP)

Nearly 48 hours after Sandy made landfall, the most densely populated state in the nation was still very much in a state of emergency.

Most mass transit systems were shut down, leaving hundreds of thousands of commuters braving clogged highways and quarter-mile lines at gas stations. Closed, too, were Atlantic City’s casinos. And Christie postponed Halloween until Monday, saying trick-or-treating wasn’t safe in towns with flooded and darkened streets, fallen trees and downed power lines.

Nearly 20,000 residents were stranded in Hoboken, just across the Hudson River from Manhattan, amid accusations that officials have been slow to deliver food and water. One man blew up an air mattress and floated to City Hall, demanding to know why supplies hadn’t gotten out. Public Safety Director Jon Tooke defended the city’s response, saying at least 25 percent of Hoboken remained under water and emergency personnel and the National Guard are working round-the-clock.

On the opposite end of the state, hairdresser Robert Dennis desperately tried to flag a ride out of Atlantic City to work in Pleasantville, several miles away. His car was flooded and taxis wouldn’t take him because they can’t get back in.

“I’m ready to walk,” he said. “I didn’t plan on getting stuck. I thought I had my car at a high enough level.”

In Little Egg Harbor Township, a coastal community bordering the southern end of Long Beach Island, streets and yards were clogged with battered pleasure craft – and the docks they had been tied to. Residents still had at least 2 feet of water in their homes.

New Jersey has 127 miles of Atlantic Ocean shoreline. Most of the beach destinations, including famed spots like Seaside Heights, Atlantic City and Wildwood, are on barrier islands that range in width from a few hundred feet to a couple of miles. The islands are so narrow that bay met ocean during the height of the storm, with water covering entire islands and making a mockery of the sandbags that some had placed around their homes.

Conditions were still too hazardous Wednesday to allow residents back on Long Beach Island, where cars were buried in 5 feet of sand, crews used heavy equipment to clear the roads and National Guard members went door-to-door, checking on residents who stayed.

Residents were turned away from the barrier island just to the north, too. At the bridge, Toms River police Chief Michael Mastronardy told them homes were destroyed, power lines were down and the area smelled like natural gas.

“It’s just bad,” he told a group of residents. “Right now we’re trying to save lives.”

Kathy Kirkof was hoping to get back to her home in the Ortley Beach section of Toms River, just north of Seaside Heights.

“I can’t eat; it’s so frustrating. It’s the unknown. I don’t know what I’m going to go back to,” she said.

Ortley Beach and Seaside Heights both took a heavy blow. A truck stuck out of a sinkhole, houses were on their sides and pushed into the main road and huge piles of sand stood blocks from the ocean.

Police were making anyone still there clear out.

“We have to get everyone off the island because there is total devastation,” said Seaside Heights police Chief Thomas Boyd.

Long Beach Island and its northern neighbor still lacked sewer service, water, gas and electricity. The stench of natural gas hung in the air, indicating broken lines.

In Brick Township, as many as 10 homes caught fire during the storm when they were knocked from their foundations, rupturing gas lines, said Brick Township police Sgt. Keith Reinhard. Gas still jetted from the broken lines Wednesday, and about 25 fires burned.

One bright spot: Newer oceanfront homes built on 35-foot pilings did what they were supposed to do as upper floors remained intact, though many were damaged. About a dozen older homes were swept off their foundations, according to Long Beach Township Mayor Joe Mancini.

Some residents believe that beach replenishment projects that built up the dunes protected the southern end of Long Beach Island.

“I felt pretty protected in my house because of all the beach replenishment,” said Will Randall-Goodwin, a 21-year-old Rutgers University student who stayed in his family’s home through the storm.

To the north, in Mantoloking, residents weren’t feeling so lucky.

Peter Green said a neighbor told him she saw a group of kids carrying away golf clubs they had stolen from his wrecked home.

“There are people looting this area, and there’s no law and order right now. They feel it’s their opportunity,” he said.

Police appeared to be doing what they could to protect the damaged multimillion-dollar homes.

A police officer patrolled the sand and questioned a group of kids with backpacks, asking if they’d taken anything. They said no, and their father vouched for them.

In New York, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said that parts of the subway would begin running again Thursday, and that three of seven tunnels under the East River had been pumped free of water, removing a major obstacle to restoring full service.

“We are going to need some patience and some tolerance,” he said.

On Wednesday, both were frayed. Bus service was free but delayed, and New Yorkers jammed on, crowding buses so heavily that they skipped stops and rolled past hordes of waiting passengers.

New York City buses serve 2.3 million people on an average day, and two days after the storm they were trying to handle many of the 5.5 million daily subway riders, too.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg said 500 patients were being evacuated from Bellevue Hospital because of storm damage. The hospital has run on generators since the storm. About 300 patients were evacuated from another Manhattan hospital Monday after it lost generator power.

Bloomberg also canceled school the rest of the week, and the Brooklyn Nets, who just moved from New Jersey, scratched their home opener against the Knicks on Thursday.

Still, there were signs that New York was flickering back to life and wasn’t as isolated as it was a day earlier.

Flights resumed at Kennedy and Newark airports on what authorities described as a very limited schedule. Nothing was taking off or landing at LaGuardia, which suffered far worse damage. Amtrak said trains will start running in and out of New York again on Friday.

The stock exchange, operating on backup generators, came back to life after its first two-day weather shutdown since the blizzard of 1888. Mayor Michael Bloomberg rang the opening bell to whoops from traders below.

“We jokingly said this morning we may be the only building south of midtown that has water, lights and food,” said Duncan Niederauer, CEO of the company that runs the exchange, in hard-hit lower Manhattan.

Most Broadway shows returned for Wednesday matinees and evening shows.

In New York, masses of people walked shoulder-to-shoulder across the Brooklyn Bridge to get into Manhattan for work, reminiscent of the escape scenes from the Sept. 11 terrorist attack and the blackout of 2003.

They entered an island sharply divided between those who had power and those who did not.

In Manhattan at night, it was possible to walk downtown along an avenue and move in an instant from a mostly normal New York scene — delis open, people milling outside bars — into a pitch-black cityscape, with police flares marking intersections.

People who did have power took to social media to offer help to neighbors.

“I have power and hot water. If anyone needs a shower or to charge some gadgets or just wants to bask in the beauty of artificial light, hit me up,” Rob Hart of Staten Island posted on Facebook.

A respected New York steakhouse in the blackout zone, Old Homestead, realized its meat was going to go bad and decided to grill what was left and sell steaks on the sidewalk for $10. A center-cut sirloin usually goes for $47.

“Give back to the people of New York,” said Greg Sherry, the steakhouse’s co-owner. He said it had served nearly 700 people on Wednesday.

Simon Massey and his 9-year-old son, Henry, took one last walk near their powerless apartment in downtown Manhattan before decamping to a friend’s place in Brooklyn where the electricity worked.

“We’re jumping ship,” he said. “We gorged on eggs and sausage this morning before everything goes bad. We don’t want to spend another three or four days here.”

They live on the 10th floor of a 32-floor building, where they were flushing the toilet with water from their filled tub and cooking on their gas stove. They found their way down the stairs with glowsticks and flashlights, and rationed iPad and phone use.

“I’m feeling scared,” said Henry, who was home from third grade for a third straight day. “It just feels really, really weird. New York’s not supposed to be this quiet.”

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Associated Press writers Maryclaire Dale, Jennifer Peltz, Leanne Italie, Wayne Parry, Meghan Barr, Verena Dobnik, Eileen AJ Connelly, Karen Matthews, Katie Zezima, Shawn Marsh, Geoff Mulvihill, Samantha Henry, David Porter and Michael Rubinkam contributed to this story.

Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.