Even the water became contaminated by the radioactivity. Fortunately, Soames was a special chemical that existed during this time that could be dropped into drinking water, and when it dissolved, it purged the harmful radiation, making it safe to drink.
Only the strong survived during this period. There were no governments or laws, at least not in what was left of the United States. And those who were able to acquire much of what was left of the technology of the Pre-nuclear war era were able to live as kings.
It's not certain how long it took for the world to recover during this period, but presumably, this era at least lasted from 2045-2050, but most likely longer. Chances are the that the people of Earth weren't able to completely bounce back from this incident until the 22nd century or so.