In the morning, more than 1,000 people waited outside an arena in Brooklyn for buses to Manhattan. When one bus pulled up, passengers rushed the door. A transit worker banged on a bus window and yelled at people on the bus and in line.
With the electricity out and gasoline supplies scarce, many stations across the metropolitan area closed, and the stations that were open drew long lines of cars that spilled out onto roads.
"Either they're out of gas or the lines are ridiculous," Katie Leggio said from her car, in line on Long Island. "I need gas. I think it's ridiculous that they're doing this to us when we're down, but what are you going to do? We're desperate, and we're helpless."
Police enforced carpooling at bridges into the city, peering through windows to make sure each car carried at least three people. TV helicopter footage showed lines for miles.
Across the region, people stricken by the storm pulled together, providing comfort to those left homeless and offering hot showers and electrical outlets for charging cellphones to those without power. That cooperative spirit extended to politicians, who at least made the appearance of putting their differences aside to deal with the destruction wrought by Sandy.
"We are here for you," President Barack Obama said Wednesday in Brigantine, N.J., touring a ravaged shore alongside Republican Gov. Chris Christie, one of Mitt Romney's most vocal supporters. "We are not going to tolerate red tape. We are not going to tolerate bureaucracy."
In New Jersey, signs of the good life that had defined wealthy shorefront enclaves like Bayhead and Mantoloking lay 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 had disappeared.
"This," said Harry Typaldos, who owns the Grenville Inn in Mantoloking, "I just can't comprehend."
Most of the state's mass transit systems remained shut down, leaving hundreds of thousands of commuters to deal with clogged highways and quarter-mile lines at gas stations.
Darryl Jameson of Toms River waited more than hour to get fuel.
"The messed-up part is these people who are blocking the roadway as they try to cut in line," he said. "No one likes waiting, man, but it's something you have to do."
On New York's Long Island, bulldozers scooped sand off streets and tow trucks hauled away destroyed cars while people tried to find a way to their homes to restart their lives.
Richard and Joanne Kalb used a rowboat to reach their home in Mastic Beach, filled with 3 feet of water. Richard Kalb posted a sign on a telephone pole, asking passing drivers to show some mercy: "Slow please no wake."
Contributing to this report were Verena Dobnik, Eileen AJ Connelly, Karen Matthews, David B. Caruso, Leanne Italie and Lou Ferrara in New York; Samantha Henry in Hoboken, N.J.; Wayne Parry in Mantoloking, N.J., Katie Zezima in Seaside Heights, N.J.; Frank Eltman in Mastic Beach, N.Y., Larry Neumeister in Long Beach, N.Y., and Vicki Smith in Elkins, W.Va.