SEASIDE HEIGHTS, N.J. (CBSNewYork/AP) — State officials were on hand to offer assistance Monday as rebuilding efforts got underway at the scene of the New Jersey boardwalk fire.
Representatives from the New Jersey Economic Development Authority and other agencies provided information to businesses and residents at the Seaside Heights Municipal Complex between 3 p.m. and 6 p.m.
Representatives of the Department of State Business Action Center, and Governor’s Office of Constituent Relations were on hand, as well as dignitaries from the departments of Banking and Insurance, Environmental Protection, Transportation and Labor & Workforce Development.
The Mobile Cabinet Office in Seaside Heights was set up to help those affected by last week’s massive fire.
“And I’m hoping to get help from the government this time,” body piercing and t-shirt shop owner Etan Malca told WCBS 880’s Peter Haskell.
He said he was lost in a maze of red tape following Hurricane Sandy.
“We were looking for rebuilding but if it takes too long, I have to move on with my life,” Malca told Haskell.
Mary Verderosa owns a building that housed four businesses and her home.
“It’s a lifetime of happiness I just lost but I have the memories,” she told Haskell.
She added she is intent on rebuilding.
“It’s sad. All the memories, all the stuff that we did, it’s gonna be different from now on. It’ll always be different,” visitor Matthew Bellesfield from Allentown, Pa., told Haskell.
He said he and his family visit Seaside this time every year.
“You look at TV, you’re just stunned. You don’t even know what to say,” Corinne Bellesfield said.
The state Department of Human Services also sent out crisis counselors in the Seaside area to provide emotional support for those impacted, Gov. Chris Christie’s office said.
The newly-crowned Miss America — Miss New York Nina Davuluri — was scheduled to head to Seaside Park and Seaside Heights Monday afternoon to support the reconstruction efforts, but was forced to reschedule her visit.
The fire, which destroyed about 50 businesses over several blocks, raged for eight hours Thursday in Seaside Park and Seaside Heights. Minor injuries were reported.
Firefighters quickly extinguished a flare-up in a debris pile on the south end of the boardwalk behind a Seaside Park bar early Sunday.
The two popular Jersey shore resort communities were still recovering from Sandy and had just spent millions of dollars rebuilding their boardwalks, arcade games, pizza stands and bar and grills to be ready for the summer season.
Among the iconic venues that were damaged or destroyed in the fire were the Funtown Amusement Pier, the Carousel Arcade, Korh’s Frozen Custard, Jack & Bill’s, and Maruca’s Pizza.
Christie has pledged $15 million in state aid for businesses damaged by the fire. That money will come from funds created after Sandy.
“I understand they’re going to offer businesses $50,000 grants and also up to a $5 million loan,” Seaside Heights Administrator Robert Martucci told CBS 2’s Steve Langford.
Martucci promised a complete absence of red tape in order to get the historic boardwalk back in business.
But some Sandy victims said with all due respect, wait a minute.
“I do want the boardwalk to be restored, but I just think there needs to be a sense of priorities and to make sure your homeowners, your communities, your families, your children are back in their homes and then, you know, worry about the boardwalk,” Sandra Lazzano said.
Lazzano said she hasn’t received a cent of aid from anyone since her home here was battered by Sandy.
“I know some people may say how come this can happen so fast because it was fire, not floods which are under federal government, which is a whole different ball game versus fire which comes under control of the state,” Martucci said.
But even local officials admitted they’ve been hit hard by insurance limitations that have failed to provide money to replace two firetrucks wrecked in Sandy, equipment that has since been loaned or given by other towns, without which last Thursday”s boardwalk inferno would have been even worse.
“I wouldn’t even want to think what would have happened,” Martucci said.
Officials are still investigating the cause of the massive fire. It has not been determined whether the fire was suspicious or just a tragic accident.
“Things have moved forward steadily in terms of identifying areas of concern and identifying evidence that’s going to help them make a determination,” Al Della Fave, spokesman for the Ocean County Prosecutor’s office, told WCBS 880.
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