By Joseph Ax
SEASIDE HEIGHTS, New Jersey (Reuters) - Summer resort towns along the New Jersey shore by all accounts were devastated by the massive storm Sandy, but many residents still cannot see the extent of the damage for themselves.
Under New Jersey Governor Chris Christie's orders, homeowners who evacuated to higher ground cannot yet return to much of the hard-hit coastal region. Roads are impassable, power is out and the possibility of open gas lines poses potential danger, authorities say.
Chris Delman, 30, said he caught sight of his Seaside Heights home in a photograph published in a local newspaper but has been stymied in his attempts to get home.
"We ain't living in Seaside no more, that's obvious," Delman said. "I just want to know what I have left."
Sandy came ashore along New Jersey's coast on Monday evening.
Some homeowners have waited on the mainland in the town of Toms River, hoping to cross a bridge onto the barrier islands that are home to the resort towns of Seaside Heights, made famous by MTV's reality TV show "Jersey Shore," and Lavalette.
They are being turned away, and the bridge is closed to the public.
"It's just the unknown that sucks," said Frank Meszaros, 43, watching a clean-up crew lift a marooned boat from the road onto a tow truck. "I hate waiting around for an answer that isn't coming."
President Barack Obama toured the region on Wednesday with Christie, a big supporter of Republican presidential challenger Mitt Romney who nevertheless had strong praise for Obama's handling of the crisis.
"I cannot thank the president enough for his personal concern and his compassion," Christie said.
The pair vowed federal and state support to help reconstruct the devastated towns.
Seaside Heights Police Chief Thomas Boyd, a lifelong resident, said Sandy brought several feet of water across the width of the island from the sea to the bay after it slammed ashore on Monday night.
The nearby town of Seaside Park remains underwater, he said, while a fire in the town of Mantoloking consumed at least 14 houses as firefighters were unable to get close to the blaze.
Bob Stewart, a Seaside Heights volunteer firefighter who stayed behind to help when Sandy hit, said his business, the Carousel Arcade, was torn apart by walls of water and vicious winds that left the town's seaside boardwalk in shambles.
"I worked all my life, and everything I had is right there," said Stewart, 59, as he eyed a pile of debris that once was his livelihood. "I put my life right there."
Stewart said he would like to revive the business, but does not have insurance for its contents. Last year, he reduced his coverage, reasoning that the building, which he said had been the oldest in town, was a safe bet.
Nearby at Casino Pier, one of the amusement parks along the 16-block boardwalk, a roller coaster lay partially submerged offshore, its tracks a maze of twisted metal.
The wooden boardwalk was buckled and swollen, and the beach littered with shorn electrical wires, slabs of broken concrete and shattered planks. Farther inland, 5-foot-deep (1.5-meter-deep) sand drifts have left streets impassable.
To raise money for storm victims, New Jersey natives Jon Bon Jovi and Bruce Springsteen, one of whose early hits was a song about the Jersey shore called "4th of July, Asbury Park (Sandy)," are headlining a Friday benefit concert to be broadcast on the networks of NBC Universal.
The "Jersey Shore" show's cast members say they are chipping in as well.
"Cleaning my closet today to donate clothes and whatever I can do (for) the victims affected by sandy! I'm comin with clothes!!!!" wrote cast member Snooki on Twitter.
Snooki, whose real name is Nicole Polizzi, shot to fame on the reality show for her outrageous behavior and penchant for tight-fitting animal-print garb.
(Editing by Ellen Wulfhorst and Will Dunham)