By Grant McCool
MANAHAWKIN, New Jersey (Reuters) - Beaches along the Atlantic coast took a beating on Sunday from Hurricane Irene, which caused heavy damage to some popular seaside tourist towns yet spared others the worst of its powerful wind and waves.
In New Jersey, on the historic boardwalk in Asbury Park, heavy concrete benches were upended and the wooden walkway was heaped with sand, residents said.
The sandy beach was washed away. with hard-packed flat dirt and debris left behind, said Geoff Merritt, who owns a house two blocks from the boardwalk.
"The beach is gone," he said. "It was a nice beach, and it's just gone."
New Jersey Governor Chris Christie said at a media briefing that beach water quality monitoring would resume on Monday in preparation for reopening popular tourist spots.
"We can get our beaches open as quickly as it's safe for people to be back in the water," he said.
In Manahawkin, cars were lined up at the causeway leading to Long Beach Island, as people waited for permission to get back onto the barrier island resort and survey the damage.
Evacuation orders for the area, issued on Friday, remained in effect.
"Long Beach Island emergency services are working to check infrastructure, gas and electricity before allowing anyone back on," said Police Lieutenant Thomas Dellane of the nearby town of Stafford, New Jersey.
Christie said he would lift the evacuation orders as soon as it was deemed safe.
"Once it's safe, believe me, I'll be out there a lot, talking about how people should come to the Jersey shore for Labor Day weekend," Christie said in an interview on CNN.
"We'll certainly be shouting it from the rooftops. We're hoping people will come celebrate the end of summer at the Jersey shore," he said.
Also ready for the return of tourists was Atlantic City, which fared the storm well, said Danielle Battistone, general manager of the local Tun Tavern and Brewery.
"No trees are down or power lines, as far as I can see," she said. "It's strange. It's completely dry."
At Delaware's Dewey Beach, the dunes had been built up artificially and planted with long grasses to limit storm damage. They appeared badly eroded but not significantly damaged after the storm.
"I'm pretty happy with what I see," said Tom Mullen, 61, of Seaford, Delaware, as he surveyed the scene.
Further south, North Carolina beaches suffered damage, said First Sergeant Jeff Gordon with the State Highway Patrol. He said some piers broke off and there was likely to be structural damage and erosion along the Atlantic coastline.
"It is just a question of how much and to what extent, and we won't know that until the damage assessor's report," he said.
A spokeswoman for the North Carolina Emergency Management response team said assessors had yet to reach some areas.
South Carolina fared reasonably well, said Derrec Becker of the state Emergency Management Division.
"We are very lucky," he said, saying no boardwalks were down and there was very little erosion.
(Additional reporting by Molly O'Toole in Washington, Eric Johnson in Chicago, Tom Hals in Dewey Beach, and Ellen Wulfhorst in New York. Writing by Ellen Wulfhorst, editing by Peter Bohan)