Post Sandy: Jersey Shore Celebrates Memorial Day Holiday

fromWHYY

As New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie has repeatedly promised, most of the beaches and boardwalks are open for tourists. But that's not to say that all is back to normal. Many towns and homeowners are still in the throws of rebuilding, and some are just beginning the demolition phase.

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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

And let's go now to the Jersey Shore. As Scott mentioned, businesses are re-opening. Most beaches and boardwalks were ready for the Memorial Day weekend crowds. But months after Sandy, some towns are still rebuilding - in some cases, just starting the demolition phase.

Here's Tracey Samuelson, from member station WHYY.

TRACEY SAMUELSON, BYLINE: For months now, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie has said the Jersey Shore would be ready for summer. Roughly 60 million tourists came here last year, and it's a pillar of the state's economy. So Christie spent much of last week opening boardwalks, to show that they're ready for those visitors. Here he is in Lavallette.

(SOUNDBITE OF SPEECH)

GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE: This is the first symbol for us of making sure this week that everybody across the state, across the region and across America knows that the Jersey Shore is open for the summer and ready to receive our customers.

SAMUELSON: Lavallette's well on its way to recovery. The town claims that 95 percent of businesses were open this weekend. But Governor Christie acknowledges things won't be normal here this summer. Toms River homeowner Kathy Romanelli agrees. On her street last week, construction workers outnumbered residents.

KATHY ROMANELLI: Usually, it's bustling with people here, getting ready for the weekend. There's nobody here. It's awful.

SAMUELSON: Some of the houses, including Romanelli's, might look fine from the outside, but inside, they're gutted. Then we spot one with furniture.

So, they look pretty good in there, peeking through their window.

ROMANELLI: See the couch?

SAMUELSON: Oh.

ROMANELLI: Disgusting.

SAMUELSON: Look closer, and the pink couch is speckled with mold.

ROMANELLI: These are, like, people that just left everything. They didn't do anything.

SAMUELSON: It's a recovery that looks very different house to house, town to town. In Mantoloking, one of the hardest-hit areas, the damage is much more visible. It looks like an angry giant burst through, bashing some homes clear off their foundations and stomping others. Traffic on the main road slows as people soak in the dramatic damage, the way the storm made some parts of people's private lives very public.

CHRIS NELSON: You know, look in this home. You can see that here's their outdoor shower with the shampoo bottle still attached.

SAMUELSON: Chris Nelson is special counsel the Mantoloking's mayor. As we drive on some roads that are still closed, he estimates a third of the roughly 530 homes in town will have to be completely rebuilt.

NELSON: You can see hangers in people's closets with clothes on them. It's horrible. And it's horrible that's it's this - you know, six months after the storm, and you're still seeing it.

SAMUELSON: But it took nearly four months just for the town to get its gas, electric and water fully restored.

NELSON: We thought the town would be, you know, inaccessible until summer.

SAMUELSON: Now, Mantoloking is trying to speed up the pace of recovery by organizing mass demolitions and debris removal for some of its residents. As part of a FEMA program, more than 50 homes will be torn down and debris cleared from another 43. It'll take a month and a half and cost nearly $3 million. Mantoloking was the first town to get its program up and running, but more than 20 municipalities are taking to FEMA about similar projects.

(SOUNDBITE OF MACHINERY)

SAMUELSON: Raif Basilious is a civil engineer overseeing these demos.

RAIF BASILIOUS: The big home takes, like, two hours to be completely demolished.

SAMUELSON: A big home only takes two hours?

BASILIOUS: Two hours, yeah, to knock down. But to remove the debris out could take two days.

SAMUELSON: A small home might come down in an hour and fit in just two dump trucks, which feels sad. But these demolitions are also a welcomed fresh start, and there are signs of normal activity here. Cherry trees survived the salt water to bloom this spring. A UPS truck is making deliveries. And the beaches here will reopen in mid-June. For NPR News, I'm Tracey Samuelson.

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