Gov. Christie helps many NJ towns mark Sandy anniversary

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October 29, 2013 8:44:49 PM PDT
A year after Superstorm Sandy pummeled his state, Gov. Chris Christie said he is celebrating how far New Jersey has come since the storm and pledged not to forget the thousands who still cannot go back home yet.

Visiting a flood-damaged firehouse in Seaside Park, 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.

Tuesday night, candles and flashlights will light up the shore along the East Coast as survivors of Superstorm Sandy pay their respects to what was lost when the storm roared ashore one year ago.

On Staten Island, residents will light candles by the stretch of waterfront closest to their homes at 7:45 p.m. in a "Light the Shore" vigil. Along the Jersey Shore, people plan to shine flashlights in a symbolic triumph over the darkness that Sandy brought.

It's a time of healing for many who suffered in Sandy's wake. But the day also brings back frightening memories for people who survived the waves and wind that lashed their homes.

"People are terrified of the ocean, even though we've lived here all our lives," said Lily Corcoran, who lives in the New York City coastal neighborhood of Belle Harbor. "We're all terrified of the water and what it can do."

Sandy made landfall at 7:30 p.m. on Oct. 29, 2012, sending floodwaters pouring across the densely populated barrier islands of Long Island and the Jersey shore. In New York City the storm surge hit nearly 14 feet, swamping the city's subway and commuter tunnels and knocking out power to the southern third of Manhattan.

The storm was blamed for at least 181 deaths in the U.S. - including 68 in New York and 71 in New Jersey - and property damages estimated at $65 billion.

In Rockaway's Breezy Point, where nearly 130 homes burned to the ground during the storm, residents will plant sea grass on sand dunes. Small businesses on Staten Island are hosting a block party to celebrate their recovery and drum up business.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo ordered flags on state buildings to be flown at half-staff on Tuesday. Mayor Michael Bloomberg is expected to tour some of the hardest-hit areas in New York City. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie planned Sandy recovery events across the state.

In Staten Island, where Sandy roared ashore and killed 23 people, there are still plenty of reminders of the storm. Wallboard and debris are piled on front lawns. Bungalows are covered in plywood. "Restricted Use" signs are plastered on many front doors.

Resident Jean Laurie is about to break ground on a new home that will be constructed on stilts 13 feet in the air. Propped up on the grass on her tiny plot of land, mounted on a piece of poster board, are photographs taken of the devastated neighborhood after the storm.

"This is like our archives," Laurie said. "To let people know that this happened. It was here. And we survived."

Two people, James Rossi and Ella Norris, drowned here during the storm. Residents recently mounted a stone memorial in the grass near the creek to honor them.

"Jimmy walked his dog here every day," Rossi's cousin, Diane Hague, said as she knelt down before it silently on a recent afternoon. "It's fitting that we have something so beautiful to represent the people that we lost."


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