For nearly a decade, Dan Buettner has researched the places people live longest, healthiest and happiest.
Superstorm Sandy harmed or destroyed 346,000 homes in New Jersey. Governor Chris Christie projects it will cost $36.9 billion to repair and prevent future damage.
But how is that reconstruction going?
Brian Donohue is a reporter with the New Jersey Star-Ledger, and has been covering the recovery.
“When the summer started, I expected things to be a little bit more normal than they were. The reality is that when you walk up and down these streets now, many of the houses are empty.”
JEREMY HOBSON, HOST:
It's HERE AND NOW. And a lot of Americans will be heading to the beach this Labor Day weekend, as the summer tourist season winds up in many parts of the country. On the Jersey Shore, where people are still recovering from last October's Superstorm Sandy, the Asbury Park Press calculates that beach communities brought in about $4 million less this year, compared with last year.
So how are things going? Brian Donohue is a reporter with the New Jersey Star-Ledger, and a regular visitor to the Jersey Shore. He's with us from Lavallette. And Brian, describe what it's like there right now.
BRIAN DONOHUE: I'm on the boardwalk here in Lavallette. It's not commercial boardwalk. It's about 10-foot-wide strip of boards newly reconstructed after the storm. And I'm about a mile to the north of Seaside Heights, N.J., which is where I think the iconic image of this Hurricane Sandy came from - which is the roller coaster in the ocean. And I'm looking right now at the giant crane which is rebuilding that pier, the casino pier.
HOBSON: So there's a new boardwalk, but are there signs still of what happened right after the storm? Is there still a lot of devastation?
DONOHUE: It's everywhere. I mean, I'm right now - to get out of the wind, I'm sort of seated behind a bulkhead between two properties - or an oceanfront house here, which looks likes it really hasn't even been touched since the storm. There's piles of cinder block. and the foundation is pretty much torn out from under the house. And then there's other houses along here that are, you know, there's - I'm looking at a construction crew putting a deck on a house across the street.
And there's a group of 9-year-old girls here trying to sell rainbow, aluminum bracelets to passersby. So it's this really strange hodgepodge of images of devastation and, you know, normal summer at the Jersey Shore.
HOBSON: And you made the comparison between what New Jersey is doing and what New York is doing - New York's long-term plan in response to Sandy. You got a chance to ask Gov. Chris Christie about his long-term plan, and here's what he said.
(SOUNDBITE OF PRESS CONFERENCE)
GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE: The fact is that New Jersey isn't New York, thank God, and...
CHRISTIE: ...and - you know, there are certain places where people are going to want to move out; there are other places where people will want to stay. And for people who have oceanfront homes, what we're saying to them is, you can keep those oceanfront homes; but we want large dune systems built in front of those homes, to make sure that we don't get that kind of damage to those homes and inland again, like we did before.
HOBSON: And Gov. Christie has been sending out tweets, talking about how great things are on certain parts of the Jersey Shore. What is the long-term plan in New Jersey, and how well is it going?
DONOHUE: Well, that's just the question that I asked. And in July, New York City unveiled this massive, 400-page, very detailed plan for how to deal with future storms. And every neighborhood has a very specific proposal. And again, it's just still a proposal. But in New Jersey, the question I was asking is, where is our plan? - you know. And the governor is insisting that there is a plan. But the problem is that the plan, at least for the oceanside beaches, hinges a lot on these dune projects. The Army Corps of Engineers is coming in and pumping sand.
There's questions over, you know, the long-term sustainability of those projects, and even whether they can get those projects off the ground, in some places, because it requires property owners to sign easements for the work to begin. And that is not proving as easy as you think it might be after a storm like Hurricane Sandy. Some property owners are holding fast to the idea that it's their property, and they'll take care of it.
HOBSON: And so much of the character of the Jersey Shore comes from the people who have been going there for years, and for generations. Have all of the people who used to vacation in the summer on the shore returned, or have some decided they're not going to go back anymore?
DONOHUE: No. I mean, I'm on vacation here right now, actually. And I think when the summer started, I expected things to be a little bit more normal than they were. It was a lot of talk of, you know, things being built back. And things started to look good. But when you - the reality is, when you walk up and down these streets now, 70 percent or so of these homes in this area are rental homes. They're second homes for people that rent out in the summer. And many of them are still empty.
And I think a lot of people still don't know what to do with those properties. And I have to say that every day I wake up, and more houses are just gone. They're just being demolished. What's going to happen with those properties is a big question mark.
And again, I'm two blocks from Ortley Beach, which is the town between Lavallette and Seaside Heights, which is just complete, still, devastation - or, it's just nothing has been rebuilt yet. A few houses and some businesses are opening, but that's - that place is years away from real recovery.
HOBSON: And of course, we're coming up to the one-year anniversary of Hurricane Sandy this fall. Brian Donohue, reporter with the New Jersey Star-Ledger, speaking with us from Lavallette, N.J. Brian, thank you so much.
DONOHUE: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.