New Jersey Governor Chris Christie was counting on 400 firefighters and the approach of rain to help snuff out a wind-driven blaze that consumed a Seaside boardwalk and amusements newly rebuilt after Hurricane Sandy.
A six-block area along the ocean with as many as 30 buildings was destroyed as crews were forced to draw water from Barnegat Bay, a quarter-mile away, to supplement conventional supplies, Christie said late today in a news briefing nearby.
The boardwalk, about 80 miles (130 kilometers) south of New York City, suffered heavy damage in October from Sandy, the costliest Atlantic storm in U.S. history. The Jet Star roller coaster, flung into the ocean, became a symbol of the storm’s strength. The boardwalk reopened in May just before the Memorial Day start of the shore’s tourism season.
Christie said he felt sick “after all the effort and time and resources” put into the shore’s recovery. The 51-year-old Republican has estimated the cost of reconstruction and fortification statewide at $36.9 billion.
Anything that wasn’t destroyed at Fun Town Pier by Sandy was leveled by the fire, according to Seaside Park Mayor Bob Matthies.
“Gone,” said Matthies, 65. He called the fire “demoralizing.”
The blaze was reported at 2:15 p.m. local time in the southernmost building of the Seaside Park boardwalk, the mayor said. Video posted online showed smoke billowing from a Kohr’s frozen-custard stand.
When he arrived, Christie said, there were “dozens and dozens of firefighters working like crazy, to exhaustion” against the fire.
No fatalities were reported and injuries were limited to exhaustion and smoke inhalation, he said at a news briefing. Christie declined to speculate on a cause.
Wind gusts were reported at 30 to 40 miles per hour (48 to 64 kilometers per hour) in advance of a thunderstorm, and the forecast called for drenching rain, Christie said.
“The best information we have at the moment is the biggest reason for the spread is the wind,” he said.
“We’re going to have no other choice but to get back in there and do what we did after Sandy,” Matthies said in an interview. “We have to get back online, rebuild and continue the character of this town.”
Authorities issued an “all-call,” meaning every available crew in Ocean County was to report to the scene, according to Al Della Fave, a spokesman for the county prosecutor’s office. Christie, speaking to reporters, said 400 firefighters had arrived on the scene from throughout the state.
Christie, 51, a Republican, has staked his re-election in November on his handling of the Sandy recovery. He viewed the scene with officials including the state fire marshal and Richard Constable, head of state’s community affairs department.
When he received word of the fire’s extent, Christie told reporters, he said to aides: “I feel like I want to throw up.” A New Jersey native, Christie has said he enjoyed bringing his wife and four children to experience the rides and arcades of his youth.
Christie used $25 million from a Federal Emergency Management Agency grant to star in a television ad campaign proclaiming the state was “stronger than the storm” and encouraging visitors to return to the Jersey Shore, the cornerstone of the state’s tourism industry. It generated a record $40 billion in revenue last year.
Editors: Pete Young, Stacie Sherman