When President Barack Obama and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie toured the Jersey shore on Wednesday, the president touted a remarkable recovery by beach towns and a tourism industry that was "back and... open for business" after Hurricane Sandy ravaged the state. Both men also praised the government response to the storm, particularly the work by Federal Emergency Management Agency.
But survivors of Hurricane Sandy say the situation on the ground is very different.
Alyssa Durnien, a fire department volunteer in Keansburg, New Jersey, whose home was devastated by flooding due to Sandy, is frustrated by the "picture perfect campaign" she saw Wednesday.
"There are homes in my town that have not been touched... For some people, FEMA didn't grant them money for the damage because it's so severe they don't know how to address it... And so many businesses have not come back," says Durnien, whose own house has been filled with mold since the storm. "It's a very scary, very true reality. And I cannot begin to express how frustrating that is to [hear them] say it's beautiful and up and running."
Christie's office disputes claims that the governor has tried to present the Jersey shore as wholly healed. Spokesman Colin Reed pointed Whispers to comments made by Christie Tuesday that "we still have so much more to do," and that the governor wouldn't "let anything or anyone get in between [himself] and the completion of the mission to restore and recover our great state." Obama also cautioned that there was “still a lot of work to be done."
FEMA, whose response to the storm has been widely praised, has already deployed nearly 2000 people, approved $1.39 billion in assistance, and helped survivors with nearly 550,000 registrations for assistance, with plans to do much more.
But Nate Kleinman, an organizer with Occupy Sandy who has been working on storm relief up and down the New Jersey coastline says the government just doesn't get it.
"The government at all levels has been focused on tourist areas, making sure boardwalks are back, and I understand that for long-term economic recovery," says Kleinman. "But when people are still living in unhealthy conditions and don't have access to fresh water, we've got a serious problem on our hands."
Kleinman, who says he has traveled from Cape May and Cumberland County in southern New Jersey to Bergen County, a county outside of New York City, to help with the recovery, describes conditions where residents are still suffering from the storm, especially in blue-collar communities. He says people have developed chronic coughs – referred to as "Sandy coughs" – from living in moldy houses, and countless houses have been condemned after owners abandoned them when they didn't receive assistance.
On Christie's website, before and after photos of Asbury Park show a devastated boardwalk post-Sandy, contrasted with a gleaming new wood walkway that exists today. Over in Avon-by-the-Sea, New Jersey, the new boardwalk was reportedly built with old-growth tropical rainforest wood, a decision that frustrates Monmouth County resident Rachel Davis, who survived Sandy.
"Not making the connection between climate change and Sandy is unbelievable," says Davis, who protested Christie's Jersey shore tour because he has said Sandy was not worsened by climate change. "The local rebuild is certainly not where it should be, but it also isn't a solution for the long-term problem."
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Updated on 5/29/13: This story has been updated to include comments President Obama made during his visit to New Jersey Tuesday.