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Christie looks to restore 'new normal' to NJ

Associated Press Modified: November 5, 2012 at 10:46 am •  Published: November 5, 2012

HOBOKEN, N.J. (AP) — New Jersey tried to bounce back Monday to what Gov. Chris Christie called "a new normal," starting the first full work since Superstorm Sandy with limited options for mass transit, some school districts reopening but many still shuttered, and power restored to about 2 million customers.

NJ Transit ramped up bus service, and gasoline was flowing at an increased number of stations that had powered back up. But Sandy's devastation left the state with huge challenges: hundreds of thousands entered their sixth day without electricity, natural gas was cut off to barrier islands, PATH train service remained suspended and at least 4,000 residents were still stuck in shelters.

"We're returning to a new normal," Christie said Sunday. "One where power is coming back on, people can fuel up again in their cars, where kids can go back to school, roads are cleared and we'll have clean water to drink."

About one-third of the state's 2,400 schools had committed to reopening their doors Monday. Others planned to open mid-week.

In Clifton, buses pulled up next to Elementary School 14 and parents returned to the daily ritual of dropping their kids off at school.

Sheila Carrasquillo dropped off her 11-year-old daughter, Layla. Layla is autistic and, her mother said, very happy to be back at school. Her daughter suffered because she was without special services such as occupational and physical therapy.

"I was trying to keep up some of the routine with her at home," Carrasquillo said.

"I make it a point to have her around typical children," she said. "And when she's not some of those behaviors returned."

Mike Zagorski dropped off his four-year-old daughter, Josephine, at the school. His wife is a teacher in the district who went back today, and the family is ready to have some semblance of a routine back, he said. Josephine, her blond hair in pigtails, was wearing a pink coat and leggings with prints of candy corn and wrapped candy.

"I like school," Josephine said when asked if she was excited to go back. "And today is Halloween." The holiday was postponed in New Jersey.

In Wood-Ridge, Myung Hae Ko dropped off her 18-year-old son Justin, who raced into the high school building.

"Yeah, of course I'm glad he's back at school," she said. "He has nothing to do at home."

Overcrowding forced NJ Transit to halt North Jersey Coast Line trains in Woodbridge. Passengers were told to use bus service from Metropark instead.

Large crowds formed Monday as NJ Transit launched emergency bus service in northern New Jersey to shuttle passengers to ferries for service to New York City. Limited train service was also available.

"It's an exciting and challenging day," NJ Transit spokesman John Durso Jr. said.

Louis Holmes, 27, of Bayonne was waiting to board a ferry at Exchange Place in Jersey City to the World Financial Center, where he works as a security guard.

The Freedom Tower, blazing with lights across the Hudson River in the breaking dawn, was a short ferry hop across once he made it through the lines of commuters.

"It is what it is," Holmes said. "There's not much we can do. We'll get there whatever time we can — and our jobs have to understand — it's better late than absent."

Barbara Colucci, 51, of Bayonne, was waiting for a ferry to get to her job in midtown Manhattan.

"I can't wait until the PATH and light rail are up and running again, but first I'd like power in my house, quite honestly," she said.

Workers who normally take the PATH train between Lower Manhattan and New Jersey are still out of luck.

The PATH station at the World Trade Center was closed Monday, with iron fencing blocking the entrance.

A guard instructed people to catch a Hudson River ferry, a short walk away.

Christie acknowledged that commuting challenges remained. He and Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, who visited storm-damaged Monmouth and Hudson counties Sunday, urged residents to use buses, carpool or stagger their work hours.

"Be smart. We're in the throes of the back end of a crisis," Christie said.

He emphasized that there was no gas shortage, and said now that power is back on at the refineries, more stations are receiving deliveries. Additionally, National Guard tankers have begun moving gas to stations in several counties where lines were longest.

In northern New Jersey, a small earthquake, with a magnitude of 2.0, struck at 1:19 a.m. Monday in Ringwood, a community that's still dealing with downed trees and power outages from Sandy. The quake was also felt in Mahwah, Wanaque, Oakland, Franklin Lakes, West Milford and Paterson. There were no reports of damage.


Associated Press writer Angela Delli Santi in Trenton contributed to this report.