By Chief Political Correspondent Michael Aron
The scene of the fire was dank and damp this afternoon as investigators continued to comb debris.
At 3 p.m., the media were camped outside the Seaside Heights municipal complex where the Christie administration was holding a mobile cabinet gathering for affected residents and business owners.
Inside, staff members from nine state agencies set up a kind of makeshift government outpost. The governor’s office did not allow media in to photograph, but we spoke to a couple of affected business owners on their way inside.
Mary Verderosa and her husband owned and lived in a building that housed four shops and that still says “Boardwalk Open.”
“It’s a lifetime of happiness I just lost, but I have the memories,” she said. When asked if she is intent on rebuilding, she said, “Oh yes. Even though I’m up there in years, I still want to be back there.
Angie Lombardi ran an arcade business in the same building.
“We’re looking for grants. I’m a tenant in the building. So the gentleman that owns it, he’s older. We got hit by Sandy. I don’t believe there’s any insurance, so any funding, anything that’ll help,” she said.
In the wake of the fire, Gov. Chris Christie announced he would make $15 million available in grants and forgivable loans to business owners. While federal Sandy dollars will reimburse the towns for debris removal, it is unclear where the $15 million is coming from.
Etan Malca owned a body piercing and T-shirt shop.
“Thank god I pay for insurance, but it’s not really worth what I lost. And I’m hoping to get help from the government this time. Last year we got all these promises,” he said.
“Certainly it’s hurt the small businessmen immensely, and we’re hoping that there will be some funding available so that we can get this boardwalk back up and running and help those small business people because that’s who’s mostly affected, but the other people that are affected are the motels and hotels that haven’t been in the fire, but yet they aren’t renting any rooms because people are reluctant to come down and stay,” said Toms River Chamber of Commerce President Maureen Stankowitz.
The five blocks of charred remains continues to attract curious onlookers.
“I feel bad for these people. What’s going on down here is a shame. I’ve been coming here since I was 3 years old with my dad. She’s been coming here with her family. And to see this like this is horrendous,” said Upper Saddle River resident Mike Tozzi.
The Christie administration has set up mobile cabinets after other emergencies. Politically it reinforces the idea of a hands-on governor and substantively it brings those who can help to those who need help.