Seaside Park residents prepare to board school buses Friday in Toms River, N.J., to visit their homes for the first time since Superstorm Sandy hit almost two weeks ago.(Photo: Oren Dorell, USA TODAY)
(Seaside Park, NJ) -- Almost two weeks after the worst storm to hit the New Jersey shore, cleanup is well underway in mainland communities and Gov. Chris Christie says rebuilding starts now. But residents of the tony Seaside Heights barrier island, where damage was devastating, have yet to begin airing out houses and putting out sodden furnishings.
Christie's decision to shut down island access to all but recovery and emergency crews has angered many who say the policy is heavy-handed and endangers their property and livelihood.
Seaside Park Mayor Robert Matthies put it plainly: "If we're ready, why can't we come back?"
Further up the island in the borough of Seaside Heights, the damage was much greater, but the state's response was a one-size-fits-all approach to lock down the entire island, Matthies said.
Joanne Delancey-Stack, finance director for the Ocean County Board of Realtors, lives in Seaside Heights year-round and owns a 16-unit apartment building there. She stayed on the island until last Wednesday when she left to go to work and pay employees. Now she cannot return.
The borough survived the worst natural disaster in 100 years but the governor's policies are "creating a man-made disaster," she said.
Christie dismissed such talk. "I'm not going to let people back on this island until it's safe," he said.
"We can't just ignore what the state's engineers are telling us," said Debbi Winogracki, spokeswoman for Toms River, which has jurisdiction over parts of the barrier island. Many houses are still too dangerous to enter, and too many roads are impassable or compromised by sink holes, she said.
Renee Amellio, spokeswoman for New Jersey Natural Gas, said gas lines to Seaside Heights and Long Beach islands were ruptured by storm surge and have been shut down. Water has infiltrated the system.
"We have to go in there and evaluate which section of pipe was damaged and can be salvaged and which sections can be rebuilt," she said. "We're working around the clock to get the system restored."
Anthony Conselice, a real estate agent who represents 350 properties for rental and sale, is worried about having time to get ready for the 2013 tourist season. Three sales were halted by the storm, and now the banks want to reappraise the properties. Without access for appraisers or anyone else, Conselice thinks the deals will fall through. He asked, "How can I report back to the owners?"
Most of the state had power restored by Sunday night, the Associated Press said. But thousands of homes on the barrier islands were deemed too dangerous to power up.