NEW YORK — Just after daybreak, under a pink-hued sky, the first voters began to pick their way through the sand and muck that had been the streets of Bay Head, N.J. Sidestepping the occasional dead fish, they steadily found their way to the firehouse, where a huge generator powered one of the few sources of heat in the tiny seaside borough.
From dawn till past nightfall on Tuesday, displaced residents from dozens of storm-smashed communities up and down the New York and New Jersey coastlines streamed home, gathering with their neighbors for the first time since Hurricane Sandy, with one simple goal in mind.
“I wasn’t going to let no hurricane stop me from voting,’’ said Amos Eberhard, 61, of Queens, who journeyed 90 minutes by bus to the Rockaways from Brooklyn to cast his ballot.
For many people whose hometowns have been evacuated, whose houses were damaged by flooding or fire, or whose regular polling places were rendered unusable by a lack of electrical power, this was an Election Day unlike any in memory.
On Staten Island, voters from flooded-out neighborhoods trudged past National Guard trucks on a sports field and a line of drivers desperate to buy fuel to the local high school, where some said through tears they had lost everything but their determination.
In Long Beach, the Long Island city that suffered some of the storm’s worst damage, Jose Barcia, a waiter who immigrated from Spain — and withstood 5 feet of water on his first floor last week — said he was grateful just to be able to cast a ballot.
“I love America,’’ Barcia said, after voting in a darkened elementary school where hundreds of people, some walking with canes, pushing strollers, or clutching pets, clamored to vote.
And on the barrier islands of New Jersey, where emergency workers from around the nation are removing debris and downed power lines to make the streets passable, Ocean County officials drove a bus to deliver provisional ballots to National Guard troops, Red Cross volunteers, and law enforcement officers.
Aboard the bus, poll workers rolled into Ortley Beach to see a moonscape of destroyed homes. In a supermarket parking lot, they found an Army mess tent, a Navy heater, and police officers including Summer Cunliffe, 29, serving up chili, soup, and cornbread to relief workers.
Cunliffe said she was glad for the chance to vote because her attention was focused on “giving the hardworking men and women the food to eat to keep them going.’’
In New Jersey, so many displaced residents sought to vote by e-mail or fax that the state extended by three days the deadline for returning provisional ballots, to 8 p.m. Friday.