Governor Chris Christie said on Friday that Hurricane Sandy caused $29.4 billion in damages to New Jersey but cautioned the estimate would probably rise once next summer's tourism season, population shifts and the effect on real estate values were taken into consideration.
It was the first hard figure put out by the administration since the storm barreled through the state less than a month ago, killing at least 39 people, cutting power to 2.7 million homes and businesses and flattening Shore communities.
"I will spare no effort and waste no time to rebuild and restore our tourism industry, our transportation and utilities infrastructure, and the lives of our citizens for the long term," Christie said in a statement accompanying the estimate.
In presenting his preliminary request for federal aid, Christie did not provide a breakdown of how the money would be allotted among homes and businesses, commuter rail lines and highways, and overtime costs for police, fire and emergency personnel.
In addition to the destruction caused in New Jersey, Sandy -- the largest storm in the state's modern history -- left a staggering amount of damage in New York, Pennsylvania, New Hampshire, Virginia, Maryland, North Carolina and Virginia as it churned up the East Coast.
Christie's request will pose a challenge to President Barack Obama, who toured the state days after the storm and vowed to do all he could to help its recovery.
The high-profile visit by Obama, a Democrat, in the days before the presidential election drew warm praise from the appreciative Republican governor. Some in Christie's party said his embrace of Obama altered the course of the election.
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo has already said he plans to ask the federal government for at least $30 billion to help his state in its recovery.
The stage is set for a potential battle among the governors, who will be competing for limited federal resources as members of Congress try to cut spending.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency only has $12 billion in disaster aid, so lawmakers will be asked to provide billions of dollars to meet the governors' needs, not an easy task in a politically divided capital.
FEMA has estimated that nearly 72,000 homes and business in New Jersey were damaged.
An analysis of aerial imagery by the agency showed more than 500 buildings were destroyed outright or reduced to debris; another 5,000 suffered major damage from flooding or high winds; about 24,000 had minor damage; and tens of thousands of others were affected by floodwaters.
Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.), who has had rare praise for Christie's leadership in the wake of the storm, said in a news release: "This cost analysis is a critical step in our effort to move a strong emergency funding package forward in Washington."
Lautenberg said state residents "can rely on the congressional delegation to work with the Obama administration, Governor Christie and our colleagues to deliver the funding necessary for New Jersey families, communities and businesses to recover and rebuild so that we're stronger than ever before."
The financial assessment comes days before the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee is scheduled to hold a special hearing 11 a.m. Monday at the Toms River Municipal Complex -- the first of five or six -- to assess the immediate needs of the Shore communities.
Among those invited to testify are State Police Superintendent Col. Rick Fuentes and Lt. Col. Jerome Hatfield, deputy superintendent of the state Office of Emergency Management.
The mayors from Toms River, Brick, Moonachie, Belmar and Union Beach are also scheduled to testify, along with Carl Block, the Ocean County administrator; Matthew Clark, the Monmouth County tax administrator; and Walter Kierce, the Jersey City director of Emergency Management and Homeland Security.
Sen. Paul Sarlo (D-Bergen), the committee chairman, said it was too early to know how the storm would affect the state budget because lawmakers were still trying to determine the full extent of the need.
Sarlo said the committee would also examine ways to improve the state's power grid and infrastructure.
"Hopefully the hearings will shed some light on it," he said.