SEASIDE PARK, N.J. (CBSNewYork/AP) — 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 home yet.
Visiting a flood-damaged firehouse in Seaside Park, with bare Sheetrock 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 think we’ve made tremendous progress in the last year,” Christie said earlier Tuesday on “CBS This Morning.” “Tens of thousands of people back in their homes, all the boardwalks rebuilt, so many businesses that have come back online, but I also know we still have a lot more work to do.”
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 received little or no money from a multitude of federal and state aid programs.
“The first federal dollars from the Sandy aid package didn’t flow to New Jersey until the end of May,” Christie said, adding that $8 billion has already been distributed to Sandy victims across the state.
Debbie Fortier of Brick came to Seaside Park to meet the governor. 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?”
Yet Fortier said she takes Christie at his word that help is on the way.
Another one of the 26,000 people in New Jersey still without a home, Karen Stokes, said she can’t rebuild because her insurance company isn’t paying up.
“Here it is going to be the holidays, and many people still have no homes,” she said. “Many don’t know what they’re doing. If they only made the insurance company do what they’re supposed to do.”
The firehouse visit was the first of a full day of Sandy anniversary visits the governor 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 and greet firefighters in Sayreville.
Many families in Union Beach say they’re not getting the money they need to rebuild their homes.
Mary Jane Mihalak volunteers every day at the Union Beach Hurricane Help Center despite that her and her husband’s home was among those demolished after suffering storm damage.
“The day that it was knocked down, all my neighbors came out,” she said. “It was heartbreaking. They cried with us.”
Stokes’ home also was torn down.
“At first, it was painful,” she said. “And then after the first crunch, it was a relief — that part’s behind you.”