SEASIDE PARK, N.J. (CBSNewYork/AP) — New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie met with local officials and business owners Saturday to discuss what’s next for the Seaside Park and Seaside Heights boardwalk after a massive fire left the iconic waterfront area in rubble Thursday.
The governor showed his support for the community by announcing a multimillion dollar aid package. Christie said that an initial $15-million would be made available for the rebuilding effort.
That money will come from funds created after Superstorm Sandy.
“I’m very proud of what the cabinet has done already. They’ve been talking to our Federal partners and have ways to move this along relatively quickly to get demolition going, and for those who want to rebuild, get them the assistance to help them rebuild.”
One business owner, Bubba DeMuro, told CBS 2’s Tracee Carrasco that he couldn’t believe his eyes as he watched his restaurant, Bubba’s Dog House, go up in flames.
“It was like a feeling of helplessness,” he said. “It’s just feeling of ‘I’m watching this happen and can’t do anything about it.'”
Christie told reporters on the boardwalk that it’s time to focus on the recovery.
“Time for sadness is over now,” he said. “We had two days to feel sad about this, and it’s legitimately a sad thing. But we’ve got work to do now.”
Although the blaze has been contained, firefighters were still on the scene Saturday morning, as several hot spots had been reported. Officials said minor flare-ups were to be expected.
The Ocean County Prosecutor’s Office said Saturday that the investigation was ongoing. It has not yet been determined whether the fire was suspicious or just a tragic accident.
Some people visited the scene Saturday morning to see the destruction for themselves.
“It’s sickening,” one woman told Carrasco. “I’ve been coming here forever. I take all my friends here.”
The fire, which destroyed about 50 businesses over several blocks, raged for eight hours in Seaside Park and Seaside Heights. Only minor injuries were reported.
The two popular Jersey shore resort communities had just spent millions of dollars rebuilding their boardwalks, arcade games, pizza stands and bar and grills to be ready for the summer season.
On Friday, Christie vowed to rebuild the boardwalk.
“I will not permit all the work we’ve done over the last 10 months to be diminished or destroyed by what happened last night,” Christie said. “We have endured and have begun to come back from the devastation of Sandy. We will not let these fires destroy those efforts.”
Bob Martucci, the borough administrator, said it will cost $600,000 to rebuild the borough-owned boardwalk. Individual businesses are privately owned and would not be included in that cost, he said.
Christie said state grants and loans could be made available to help businesses with recovery costs not covered by insurance.
“We’ve already come up with some plans and ideas to be able to help them, I believe, in a really significant way at the state level, and we’ll try to get some help on the federal level as well,”Christie said.
U.S. Rep. Frank Pallone Jr. said he would ask federal officials to consider letting the two towns use part of the federal Sandy disaster relief money to rebuild the boardwalk again.
Failing that, another appropriation from the federal Emergency Management Agency, Community Development Block Grants or Small Business Administration loans should be explored as possible help for affected businesses, he said.
Business Owners Ponder The Future In The Wake Of A Second Disaster
Mike Carbone Jr. looked around his family’s bars The Beachcomber and couldn’t help but feel defeated. The bars was first destroyed by Superstorm Sandy in 2012 and was in ruins again after the massive inferno that broke out on Thursday.
“It hurts to see the damage to my neighboring business and to my own business. We just put so much into this. We just built this beautiful deck last year,” he told CBS 2’s Tracee Carrasco.
Carbone did everything he could to protect the bar from the blaze but the wind was too fierce to fight.
“It just caught and just kept vlowing building to building really quick,” he said.
The upstairs of the bar took the brunt of the damage. Charred remains, glass, and debris marked the building that was supposed to be rebounding after Sandy.
“We just put in eight new 50 inch TVs for football season wiring them all up for games and the next thing you know they’re all melted off the walls. I was just hoping for a good winter to keep me through until next summer,” Carbone said.
Visitors, Residents Faced With A Charred Trip Down Memory Lane
On Saturday visitors and residents told CBS 2’s Carrasco that the Seaside Park boardwalk held a lifetime of memories.
“When I was young I had there at the carousel arcade. That was my first summer job down here. So, I wanted to see what was left of the place,” Glenn Donner said, “It’s sickening. I’ve been coming here forever and I take all my friends here. We take this picture all the time by the Fun Town Pier Sign.”
Now, all that is left are the memories, mounds of rubble, and signs of a once lovely Seaside boardwalk. Many in the Jersey Strong community have vowed to rebuild after declaring themselves Stronger Than The Storm they now say they are “Better Than The Blaze”.
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