CAPE MAY - Residents and vacationers at a Stronger Than the Storm event on the Second Avenue beach Saturday expressed relief Hurricane Sandy did not hurt Cape May as much as it did other communities.

The message at the Storm Kites and Castles tourism event was the New Jersey Shore is back and stronger than Hurricane Sandy.

About 300 people, mostly families, gathered to build sandcastles and fly kites. Stronger Than the Storm spokeswoman Shannon Eis said it was the first time the consumer campaign focused on Sandy recovery had come to Cape May County.

"We prioritized more on towns that were heavily impacted by the storm," Eis said.

The $25 million state tourism campaign is funded by the federal disaster aid package that was approved by Congress earlier this year. The campaign to boost the state's $38 billion tourism industry is managed by the state Economic Development Authority and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Kim Downes said although the Cape May region did not experience as much storm damage as elsewhere, the economy was hurt because of the incorrect outside perception the shore wasn't ready for this summer season.

Downes, a year-round resident of Cape May, said she was thankful most of the county was spared the damage and devastation other communities experienced after Hurricane Sandy. She said the message that the Cape May region is open for business could have gotten out to the public a little sooner.

"Hopefully our good summer season will help towns up north. People are back," Downes said as her children built sandcastles at her feet. "For us, down here we can't complain. This is a great event, and anytime we can expose the beach it's a good thing."

The beach was crowded Saturday. Laurie Weber said she was lucky to have not experienced Sandy damage at her Cape May vacation home or her primary residence in Ridgewood, Bergen County.

"Up in Bergen County, I saw my place down here in Cape May on the news three times during the storm with water rushing into my garage. Luckily, I had no damage up north at my home and none down here - just a clean garage," Weber said.

Weber said she bought her house in Cape May because each time she made the three-hour trip she wondered why she was leaving.

"This is the kind of place that if you weren't born here or raised here, you adopt it as your own. That's why I bought here," she said.

Tom Olszewski, of Pittsburgh, Pa., said he and his family watched the news in October and hoped Cape May wasn't badly hit during Hurricane Sandy. This was their seventh summer vacation here.

His grandchildren were not aware what New Jersey had experienced nine months ago. They were just happy to be on vacation building sandcastles.

"We were worried that we weren't coming this year. We kept a close eye on it and learned that Cape May hadn't been hit as hard. By the beginning of the summer, we knew were coming back," he said.

Contact Donna Weaver:

609-226-9198; DWeaver@pressofac.com

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