SEASIDE HEIGHTS — Gov. Chris Christie pledged $15 million in state aid Saturday for businesses damaged by a massive boardwalk fire in a shore community just getting back on its feet after Hurricane Sandy.
Christie met privately with 30 of the more than 50 business owners who suffered losses in Thursday’s fire in Seaside Park and Seaside Heights, promising an aggressive response to haul away rubble from the fire and help them rebuild again.
“We had two days to feel sad about this, and it is legitimately a sad thing. But we’ve got work to do now. A couple days to mourn, now we’ve got to move on and get back to work,” Christie said.
Christie’s office said the New Jersey Economic Development Authority board plans to extend an initial $15 million from programs offered to help in the recovery from Sandy. Those funds would be made available whether or not the fire-damaged businesses were affected by Sandy, according to the Christie administration.
“It was critical that we move quickly to aid the Seaside business community, which was still struggling to recover from Superstorm Sandy,” said Michele Brown, CEO of the New Jersey Economic Development Authority, which is expected to formally take action at a meeting Wednesday.
The wind-whipped fire destroyed dozens of ocean-front businesses, including bars, pizza places and T-shirt shops and shot flames 50 feet into the air. Public works crews had to rip up part of the boardwalk to create a makeshift fire break, robbing the advancing flames of fuel. The crews piled sand in the breech creating dunes to hold back fire rather than water.
During his visit Saturday, Christie also greeted residents, many of whom thanked the governor for coming to the shore town that was still recovering from Sandy when disaster struck again.
“I wouldn’t be anyplace else,” Christie said, having canceled a weekend getaway to Florida to celebrate his wife’s birthday. “When a crisis happens you have to be here to help organize things, to lend encouragement and deliver help.”
The good news, if there is any, Christie said, is that the fire was contained before it engulfed the entire boardwalk.
“This could have been significantly worse. We have about four blocks that were taken out, and for those people on those four blocks, it’s awful. But, we could have lost all of this,” he said, gesturing to a portion of the boardwalk untouched by the flames.