- Seaside Park, New Jersey 10/29/2013 (AP)
— A year after Superstorm Sandy pummeled the 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.
Visiting a flood-damaged firehouse in Seaside Park, with bare drywall 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 some Sandy victims who 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."
Fortier said she takes Christie at his word that help is on the way — whenever that might be.
The firehouse visit was the first of a full day of stops Christie planned to make on the anniversary of a storm that damaged or destroyed more than 340,000 homes and businesses and is blamed for 71 deaths in New Jersey.
After attending an interfaith service at Newark's New Hope Baptist Church, Christie headed to the storm-ravaged town of Moonachie, which was inundated by floodwaters from the Hackensack River.
He was joined by New York Jets owner Woody Johnson and NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, who said the league had established a strong partnership with the Christie administration. The NFL and the two teams that play at MetLife Stadium, just a few miles from Moonachie, have donated to Sandy relief efforts in the run-up to the upcoming Super Bowl at the stadium, including for the rebuilding of storm-damaged recreation and youth athletic facilities.
Later in the day Christie was 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.
Also 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. The fund so far has handed out $19.2 million to 80 organizations involved in storm recovery.