LITTLE EGG HARBOR TOWNSHIP — Despite the crowd outside questioning Gov. Chris Christie about why he hasn’t visited over the past year, another crowd inside the township Community Center cheered when he took the stage. Christie came Tuesday night for the reopening of the Community Center in the Mystic Islands section that was flooded with 5 feet of water during Hurricane Sandy.
The event was also to thank the first responders and members of the community for their work during the hurricane.
But the crowd of residents outside held signs, asking Christie to cut the red tape for rebuilding instead of ribbons for reopening facilities.
Before he arrived, township residents Fran Zimmer and Carol Lincoln stood in the reopened Community Center parking lot, holding signs that said, “Why visit now? A year after Sandy?” and “Help us get money to rebuild.”
“We feel he should’ve been down here to address us sooner. It’s too late,” Lincoln said.
Residents and many officials have been critical of Christie for not visiting the region once over the year since Hurricane Sandy,
The group of residents was not permitted in the facility with their signs, Zimmer said.
“We feel he should come out and talk to us and tell us why he hasn’t been here over the last year,” Zimmer said.
Christie told the crowd of about 400 assembled in the community center and hundreds more who were listening outside in the parking lot that the anniversary of Hurricane Sandy isn’t a celebration, but a commemoration.
“I am happy for the people whose lives are back to normal. I am angry for the people whose lives are not,” Christie told the crowd.
He added that it is his mission to make sure everyone will return to their homes. There was a lot of clapping and cheering for the governor inside the Community Center, but outside the crowd — many of them displaced residents — could be heard yelling as Christie spoke.
In Little Egg Harbor, officials estimate that about 5,000 homes suffered significant storm damage. But it has proved to be difficult for the township to determine just how many remain displaced. Officials have not been able to provide an exact number.
Last month, the Ocean County Planning Board estimated that 4.5 percent of the county’s 576,567 people have not returned to their homes since Sandy.
Christie pledged in the form of sacred promise to not stop fighting until everyone returns to their home.
“I may not be the most attractive governor or the thinnest governor, but there is no governor in America who will fight harder and louder for his people than I will fight for all of you,” Christie said and the crowd cheered.
Christie told the crowd that yes, there are tens of thousands of people whose lives are back to normal since the storm. But there were mumbles from the crowd that said, “not here.”
“Until everyone is back in their homes and their lives are back to normal, we can’t celebrate,” Christie told the crowd.
Christie reminded the crowd during his speech that rebuilding was going to be the hardest and longest part of the recovery process.
“It’s always harder to rebuild than to destroy. Rebuilding takes longer, and it’s expensive,” he said.
That rebuilding process has proved to be a daunting task for residents, particularly in the Mystic Islands section of the township where the Community Center is located.
Lynn Cairns, of West Mohawk Drive, who has been displaced from her home for the last year and is living in an apartment in Tuckerton. Outside the Community Center after Christie finished speaking, Cairns said she was hopeful listening to him and was a little bit energized by the cheering and positive message. But it wasn’t enough.
“The way he presents himself out there and he’s tough and says that he’s going to fight is encouraging, but I’m not going to say I believe it,” Cairns said.
For Lisa Stevens, of the Mystic Islands section, the governor’s Democratic challenger Barbara Buono’s visit last month came before Christie’s, and Stevens said that made him look bad to so many of the residents who are still displaced.
“Gov. Christie not coming here for a year to see the damage and talk to us almost felt like a slap in the face. Now it’s too little, too late,” Stevens said.
Marion Groff, of Bass River Township, Burlington County, made the short trip north to hear Christie Tuesday evening. Groff said Little Egg Harbor isn’t the only place the governor has snubbed. Christie has not visited Burlington County either since Sandy, she said.
“We’ve gotten nothing, just like these people, like our neighbors here in Little Egg Harbor. We weren’t even considered a disaster area until last week. He didn’t energize me at all. He’s just running for president,” she said.
Eileen Smith said she achieved her dream four years ago when she bought her home on East Potomac and retired here. She has rebuilt and moved back in since the storm, but her street is empty, her neighbors still not home.
“It’s a ghost town here. What he’s done to this town. He has not shown his face in this town for a year and now he comes because there is an election next week,” Smith said.
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