A smiling Gov. Chris Christie leaned across a broad blue banner imprinted with the words,"New Jersey, Stronger Than the Storm" and cut the ribbon on a brand new boardwalk in Belmar.
"The biggest reason that I want to come and open these boardwalks," he told the crowd in May, "is because I want New Jersey, the region and the country to know that New Jersey has come back."
A hundred miles to the southwest, on the other side of the state, Mike Coombs crouched in the palomino-gold meadow grass. It was not going to be a good day for farming. His back ached from the shift in temperature. A brisk breeze from the west had turned east and would be bringing moisture in off the Delaware Bay, and a wet “medda,” as Mike called it in the faintly Southern twang of this part of New Jersey, meant he wouldn’t be cutting hay anytime soon.
Three thousand acres of salt hay, and all but 500 were thrashed and drowned by last October’s hurricane. The surge from the Delaware Bay pushed mountains of water up the estuary’s tributaries, slashed levees, smashed through sand berms and flooded meadow and marsh; it tore through homes and businesses and shifted so much sand it clogged rivers, creeks and streams.
A year ago this week, Hurricane Sandy slammed into the Mid-Atlantic, and while much of the evidence has been razed and removed from the gleamingly rebuilt towns all along the eastern shore, along the western shore it’s like Sandy never left.
In the aftermath of the worst natural disaster in state history, two New Jerseys were left behind. The people of one coast reached for recovery. They were lauded for their stoutness, touted by politicians for their fortitude and inundated with gifts and money by a sympathetic public and a responsive state government. Shops, restaurants and summer rental agencies all along the Atlantic shore looked to rebound — millions of tourists, after all, depended on them.