New Jersey still recovering from Superstorm Sandy 1 year later

Carolina Leid has more from New Jersey.
October 29, 2013 8:31:42 PM PDT
Superstorm Sandy's impact on the Jersey shore will be felt for generations.

Off the shores of Monmouth County, the waves reached a record 32 feet. Atlantic City was shut down for a week, with city streets flooded, then left buried under sand for up to a mile from the ocean's edge.

In Mantoloking, fires burned throughout the storm, devastating the town.

And Seaside Heights had its amusement park ripped to shreds, the iconic JetStar roller coaster consumed by the ocean.

There has been no retreat from the shore, but some homeowners still see the same bare studs that have defined their homes since last year.

The storm damaged or destroyed 360,000 homes and businesses in New Jersey. As of this month, FEMA says it has distributed $5.6 billion in federal aid. Still, countless buildings sit vacant.

In Ocean County, an estimated 26,000 people still can't use their damaged and destroyed homes. And in some cases, insurance payouts fell short of what is needed to rebuild under new, more expensive rules.

"We're still working with a lot of clients that you still gotta give them a hug," contractor Pete Gilman said. "Because you can still see the stress in their eyes."

The mayor of Brick says the familiar shore bungalows won't be rebuilt. Instead, he says, they will give way to expensive new homes that will squeeze out the middle class. He predicts the shore will become more like the Hamptons.

Gov. Chris Christie started the day Tuesday thanking firefighters in Seaside Park.

Visiting a flood-damaged firehouse, with bare sheet rock and dangling wires, the governor said Tuesday is a day to remember volunteers and first responders who risked their lives to save others. Christie, who stayed overnight at the governor's beach house in neighboring Island Beach State Park, said he woke up Tuesday morning and was struck by "just how much different we all feel a year later."

"I want us to think of how much better things look today than they did a year ago, and celebrate that," Christie said. "We also have to acknowledge that there's still thousands of people out of their homes. For them, it doesn't matter that there are tens of thousands of people back in their homes. I can't break faith with these people. Until they're back home, we can't forget them. We are all not whole until everybody individually is whole."

Christie is expected to be easily re-elected next week after a campaign in which he touted his handling of the storm aftermath as one of his main accomplishments. But he also has come under fire from Sandy victims who complain that a year later, they have gotten little or no money from a multitude of federal and state aid programs.

One of them is Debbie Fortier of Brick, who came to Seaside Park to meet the governor. Walking out arm-in-arm with him after he had finished speaking at the firehouse, she told Christie how her family's house had to be torn down and how her family has yet to receive any aid.

"We're physically, emotionally and spiritually just drained," she said after Christie left. "Does anybody hear us?"

She said she is on a waiting list "for everything," and is particularly bitter that her family started to repair their storm-damaged house, only to have inspectors later tell them it was too badly damaged to fix. They then had to knock it down and move into a friend's basement.

"How long am I supposed to wait?" she asked. "It's been a year. You can't just not move forward."

Yet Fortier said she takes Christie at his word that help is on the way - whenever that might be.

Also on Tuesday, the Hurricane Sandy New Jersey Relief Fund, chaired by the governor's wife, Mary Pat Christie, announced eight new grants to nonprofit organizations to be used for housing assistance, mental health programs and social services. So far the fund has handed out $19.2 million to 80 organizations involved in storm recovery.

The firehouse visit was the first of a full day of Sandy anniversary visits Christie planned to make Tuesday. Later in the day he was to attend a memorial service for the 71 New jersey victims who died in the storm, to help with light repair work at a flood-damaged home in Union Beach, to attend a ceremony in Belmar, which was the first shore town to rebuild its boardwalk after the storm, and greet firefighters in Sayreville, the Raritan Bay community where his administration just completed the purchase of two homes under a state buyout program for flood-prone areas.

(The Associated Press contributed to this report)