(Reuters) - Residents of New Jersey’s southern shorefront towns on Monday cleaned up homes and businesses flooded by a storm surge during the weekend’s massive blizzard and rued what they described as Governor Chris Christie’s dismissive treatment of the damage.
The storm that walloped Washington and New York with about 2 feet (60 cm) of snow hit coastal Cape May County in New Jersey with tides higher than those measured during 2012’s Superstorm Sandy, sending salt water into properties and forcing hundreds of people to evacuate.
Jim Hand voiced exasperation as he surveyed the damage at Fred’s Tavern in Stone Harbor, a bar and liquor store about 35 miles (56 km) down the coast from Atlantic City. Hand, a member of the third generation of his family to own the shop, said that the property’s kitchen, electrical wiring and floors would all need to be replaced.
“We’re doing the same thing today we did after Sandy,” said Hand, 61.
He was one of a handful of local business owners to criticize comments by Christie, a Republican White House contender who told CNN on Sunday that he had “no concerns” about flooding as a result of the storm.
“Keep this in perspective,” Christie told CNN during a one-day return to the state from the campaign trail in New Hampshire. “Cape May County area was the least flooded area during Hurricane Sandy and had almost no damage in that area.”
No immediate estimate of the financial toll of the flooding damage was available but reinsurance broker Aon Benfield said that total insured losses along the East Coast will run into the billions of dollars.
Hand had no patience for Christie’s words, saying, “It shows you how out of touch he is with what’s going on in his state.”
Angry comments from New Jersey residents immediately flashed across Twitter and raged into Monday, some showing images of street flooding and tagged to Christie with comments like “nothing to see here.”
Christie spokesman Brian Murray said that the governor’s words had been taken out of context.
“Cape May County and lower Atlantic County did not sustain the direct hit from Sandy suffered by more northern parts of the Jersey Shore. But the governor did not say they were not impacted by Sandy,” Murray said. “He only cautioned news reporters to use some context when pointing to Saturday’s flooding in Cape May and saying it’s ‘Worse than Sandy.'”
Sandy was directly responsible for 147 deaths in the United States, destroying more than 650,000 homes around the greater New York area and causing nearly $50 billion in damage.
Christie said in a statement on Monday that he had sent teams to the storm-hit areas to determine whether the damage was severe enough to seek federal assistance, a process that he said could take days.
Children’s clothing store owner Maggie Day sprayed an anti-bacterial mix over her ruined merchandise as she surveyed the damage to her shop in Stone Harbor in Cape May County.
“I did walk away from Sandy with a lot of damage,” said Day, 39, who had to replace flooring, walls, insulation and merchandise after the 2012 storm and was working with a “water excavator” to get a handle on the latest damage.
“It’s not even help that I‘m asking for,” Day said. “It’s just a little bit of compassion with a public leader on TV. You can’t pooh-pooh it publicly when you’re a leader.”
Reporting by Barbara Goldberg in New York; Editing by Scott Malone and Lisa Shumaker