TOMS RIVER, N.J. – In the months after Superstorm Sandy devastated the Jersey shore, Gov. Chris Christie warned residents the damage would not be quickly undone.
Things would only look moderately better in the first summer after the storm, he said, and would be closer to normal in the second one.
But with the third summer after Sandy nearly here, the Jersey shore is still recovering despite the substantial progress that has been made in the 2 1/2 years since the October 2012 storm. Beaches have been restored, roads rebuilt, infrastructure hardened and many homes have been repaired.
But thousands of others still have not, and only now is the state getting to the last of thousands of applicants who had been on a waiting list for New Jersey's main rebuilding grant program. The federal government has awarded New Jersey $4.1 billion in Community Development Block Grant funds for disaster recovery; $1.64 billion has been given to homeowners so far. The state says it is handing out money as fast as it can while guarding against theft or fraud.
"I want to go home, I want my kids to go home and everybody else to go back home," said Joe Karcz, whose home in Stafford Township had to be demolished. "Two and a half years later, my home is still a dirt lot. I've moved 12 times since the storm. The home I'm in now just got sold, and I'll be moving a 13th time. It's a travesty."
Jean Turnbridge, of Point Pleasant Beach, has moved five times since the storm. Her home needs to be raised in order to avoid devastatingly high flood insurance premiums as a result of Sandy, but she has not yet been able to afford it.
"I can't move again, except to move home," she said. "Everything you try to do, something blocks you."
Christie spokesman Kevin Roberts said the administration had expected the final phase of recovery to be the most difficult.
"New Jersey continues to see remarkable progress in recovering from the worst natural disaster in our state's history," he said. "We know there is still more work to be done, which is why our administration remains focused on ensuring every tool and resource remains available to get families back in their homes, communities fully restored, and to ensure our beaches, boardwalks, and businesses are ready for another successful summer tourism season at the shore."
Wendy Joan, of Brick, still does not have heat in her home, which was flooded by a nearby creek.
"I've been crying since Sandy hit," she said. "I really, really thought we were going to come out of this great. I had insurance. Every single day, my kids are asking me, `When are we going to go home?' My husband lost his job; we're wiped out."
Beach replenishment projects have widened beaches in many parts of the state's 127-mile coastline, but some vulnerable spots remain, largely because oceanfront homeowners still refuse to sign easements allowing the work to take place. Northern Ocean County in particular remains exposed, including some of the towns hardest hit by Sandy. Christie has vowed to use eminent domain to acquire the narrow strips of land needed for the project but still hasn't done so.
"I rebuilt my home, and I did it because Gov. Christie promised us dunes," said Kathy Barisciano, who lives in the Ortley Beach section of Toms River. "It's three years later and I'm scared. All it takes is one nor'easter. We still have no protection."