Gov. Chris Christie says Hurricane Sandy was the most powerful and severe storm in New Jersey's history, and the challenges in its aftermath are just as unprecedented. 

 The governor says the main priorities now are restoring power, clearing debris from roads, ensuring communities have access to clean water, and having residents contact FEMA for assistance.

"Once we deal with the immediate post-storm aftermath, we start to return the state to some sense of day-to-day normalcy," Christie said. "We need to work on rebuilding.

"I want to be clear that this will be the longest phase of our recovery from this storm," he said Thursday. "I'm confident we can rebuild, that we will rebuild, and we'll rebuild together."

Also Thursday, New Jersey State Police deployed troopers to the barrier islands that were hardest hit by Hurricane Sandy to work with local and county agencies on ensuring safety and security for those Shore communities.

The State Police will help protect the property of residents and merchants against potential looting or other crimes, while also providing additional resources and personnel for any rescue and recovery operations.

"As New Jersey continues to recover from this unprecedented disaster, many homes remain unsafe for habitation due to electric outages and property damage, particularly on the barrier islands," said Christie. "A general state of emergency declaration continues, and local evacuations and curfew orders remain in effect.

"Property owners who are prevented from returning home should know that troopers and other police are on alert for individuals breaking curfews," he said.

New Jersey Attorney General Jeff Chiesa promised that anyone who engages in looting will face serious penalties.

Setting up FEMA centers, answering health questions

Christie says FEMA disaster assistance centers will be set up in all counties affected by the hurricane to help residents get cash assistance and assess damage to homes and businesses.

"You should not be hopeless. You should not feel like you're alone," he said. "If you need temporary assistance to be able to get a place to stay, all those things are things that FEMA can help with for people who have been affected by the storm."

Many homes were destroyed or damaged, boardwalks were torn up and scattered onshore, and Christie says two-thirds of the beaches in areas he's toured are gone.

The governor says it's lucky more people didn't die because they failed to heed the warnings to leave their homes on the barrier islands. He says two-thirds of the beaches in areas he's toured have disappeared.

Those who suffered losses from the storm can register with FEMA by calling 1-800-621-FEMA or at DisasterAssistance.gov.

To help New Jersey residents as they clean up their homes and businesses, the New Jersey Department of Health is making public health experts available through the state's 211 system to answer questions about food and water safety and mold removal.

To reach health experts, call 211 or 1-866-234-0964. Public Health officials will be available to take calls 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. on weekdays and 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on weekends. The 211 human services hotline is open 24/7.