POINT PLEASANT, N.J. (AP) – Get the hell back on the beach!
A week after telling people—in some not very subtle terms—to leave the shore as Hurricane Irene swirled up the coast, New Jersey Gov. Christie on Friday encouraged people to head back to the boardwalk with open wallets.
Last Friday, Christie told sunbathers to “get the hell off the beach in Asbury Park,” a quote that was replayed on national television for days. This Friday, he took to the boardwalk to say that the worst was over, then headed to a local pub for a beer.
“New Jersey has done a great job recovering from this storm,” the governor told beachgoers gathered on the boardwalk. However, Christie said he was concerned about the time it has taken for power companies to restore electricity and that the state Board of Public Utilities planned to hold hearings on their performance.
Christie said he was particularly concerned about Jersey Central Power & Light, which has restored service more slowly than other utlities in the state.
JCP&L will cooperate with any review of its performance, spokesman Ron Morano said, noting that the company is still focused on restoring service.
By 6 p.m. Friday, there were fewer than 27,000 homes and businesses still without power, nearly all of them in JCP&L’s territory. The company said most customers’ electricity would be restored by Saturday, except for small groups of customers in severely flooded areas, when restoration was expected by late Sunday.
An estimated 1 million people heeded his words and fled before Irene made landfall in New Jersey on Sunday, something experts have credited with saving lives.
Portions of the Spring Lake boardwalk were torn up, the southern end of Belmar’s beachfront sustained flood damage and there was widespread beach erosion, but most New Jersey beaches weathered the storm without permanent damage.
The evacuations, however, carried an economic cost.
Atlantic City casinos closed for only the third time since opening in 1978 and many businesses lost revenue on a normally busy summer weekend.
President Barack Obama has approved money for flood-ravaged counties up north, but shore areas—Monmouth, Ocean, Cape May and Atlantic counties—aren’t yet eligible.
Christie said damage assessments were being completed and that that could change.
Businesses are hoping for a bustling Labor Day weekend and some are offering promotions to lure people back. Caesar’s Casino in Atlantic City is promoting a “Good Night Irene” party and is offering discounted hotel packages.
The weekend forecast along the shore calls for cooler but pleasant temperatures in the low 70s on Saturday, more summerlike temperatures on Sunday, but a good chance for thunderstorms and showers on Sunday and Monday.
AAA Mid-Atlantic has predicted more than 950,000 New Jersey residents will travel 50 miles or more from home for the holiday— 3 percent fewer than 2010, said spokeswoman Tracy Noble. Many travel plans, she said, will hinge on how people fared during the storm.
Following a news conference at Point Pleasant Beach, Christie stopped off at The Ark Pub and Eatery for a beer.
Christie said he and his family are spending the weekend at the Governor’s Beach House on Island Beach State Park and will be stopping at a few locations along the shore. A short time later, his brother and sister-in-law joined him at the bar.
“I’m heeding my own advice,” he told those at the bar. “I’m starting my weekend at the shore as well.”
Christie could barely finish his beer, with patrons lining up to take pictures and give compliments about the way he handled the storm.
Richard DiBianco, 44, of Princeton, came up to Christie to complain about property taxes and health care—something the governor said was a sign that things were getting back to normal.
“I love everything you are doing, but property taxes and health care are getting to the point where I don’t know if we can stay anymore in New Jersey,” DiBianco said.
For a change, Christie seemed to welcome complaints about property taxes.
“When you get back to property taxes and health insurance costs, that means people are starting to recover from the hurricane. They are complaining about the normal things that they complain about,” the governor said. “I never thought I’d find relief in people complaining about property taxes, but it’s a good sign.”
Dan and Tony Bartone, who have owned The Ark for three years, lost power for three days during the storm and said they took a big hit. So far, Dan Bartone said he’s optimistic about this weekend:
“It looks like there is a lot of traffic so far and it looks like it is going to be a good weekend.”
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)