|May 16, 2013|
Prince Harry, Gov. Christie tour Sandy-damaged New Jersey coast.
|On the same day that crews demolished the submerged JetStar roller coaster --- a lingering reminder of Sandy's awesome devastation --- Britain's Prince Harry visited Seaside Heights, training the world's attention on a Jersey Shore determined to rebuild.|
Gov. Chris Christie guided the British royal on a mid-morning tour Tuesday of a Mantoloking neighborhood decimated by the hurricane before the unlikely pair tried their luck at games of chance on the partially rebuilt Seaside boardwalk.
"It's fantastic, the American spirit, isn't it?" Prince Harry told reporters. "Everyone getting together and making things right, it's fantastic."
His Royal Highness Prince Harry of Wales, 28, and Christie also spent time thanking emergency personnel for their heroism in the storm as well as construction workers racing to ready resort towns for the Memorial Day kickoff to the summer season.
"He came here because, when he was serving in Afghanistan, he met someone who is from the Jersey Shore who wound up having their home destroyed in the storm," Christie said later at a West Windsor bookshop. "When he was coming to the United States, he told me that he wanted to make sure he came to New Jersey because he wanted to see it for himself."
Christie, his wife, Mary Pat, and their four children met the prince in Sea Girt with the gift of a personalized blue fleece jacket, identical to the one Christie wore for days before, during and after the Oct. 29 hurricane. This one, emblazoned with "Prince Harry," prompted the governor to tweet that he greeted him "the best way I know how; with his own Royal Fleece."
From there, they visited Mantoloking, where all of the affluent town's 521 homes were damaged or destroyed by Sandy. "Prince Harry please come back when we're restored," read a sign amid the rubble.
Christie showed Harry the spot where the Atlantic Ocean had cut Mantoloking in half, taking out a bridge and houses, and they inspected the building of sand dunes, credited with sparing other beach towns.
"This used to be a house?" Harry asked at one barren spot.
From there, they drove 10 miles south to the Seaside Heights boardwalk, where a crowd of more than a thousand chanted "Harry! Harry!" on a brisk but crystal-clear day along the ocean.
There, the prince and the governor played iconic carnival games.
Tossing plastic balls in holes, Prince Harry won a stuffed white bear for Jada Fonca, 7, one of two dozen Seaside Heights Elementary School students selected to attend the visit. Her family is still displaced, and her school is still shuttered.
The prince suggested to the little girl partnered with him, Allie Cirigliano, 7, of Middletown, that she pick a blue penguin as a prize. But she didn't want it. "Don't listen to me," he said with a laugh. She chose a Hello Kitty doll instead.
Christie threw enough winning darts to present Michael Vanover, 7, of Toms River, with a blue stuffed bird. His grandmother, Wendy Vanover, and grandfather, Vincent Curci, a ride maintenance worker for the Casino Pier, let him stay home from school for the "once in a lifetime opportunity" to meet royalty.
The visit was tame compared with the last time Prince Harry visited the states. Photos showed a naked prince and at least one naked young woman while playing strip billiards at a Last Vegas hotel, prompting Christie to joke that he would keep watch over the Brit.
With an eye toward Prince Harry's cheeky antics, Leonardo Graci, a carpenter with T&K & Son Marine Construction of Barnegat, said he invited the royal to join the crew for drinks. Prince Harry joked he would go in exchange for permission to operate the 150-foot crane set up in their sight lines to dismantle the JetStar roller coaster. "I said, 'You got it. The drinks are on you," Graci said.
Minutes after they left the boardwalk --- and a few hours ahead of schedule --- crews from Hillside-based Weeks Marine began to dismantle the 30-foot tourist oddity plunged into the Atlantic Ocean. A claw reduced the amusement to a pile of twisted steel on a floating barge. Sonar technology will ensure nothing is left on the ocean floor.
"This is what we needed to happen," said Seaside Heights Mayor Bill Akers. "We needed a visual to show to people that ... not only will you have a boardwalk to go on, but you will be able to go into the water."
The owners, Casino Pier LLC, plan to open the pier's lower deck by Memorial Day, and turn a portion of the coaster's 1,100-foot track into a tribute to Sandy survivors, said company spokeswoman Toby Wolf. More amusements will follow, including a new thrill ride dubbed simply: Super Storm.
Seaside resident Cathy Ward, who has made nightly sojourns to the pier for the past two months, said she was sad to see the coaster go.
"This is worse than the storm for some reason," Ward said. "I'm sadder than the day it happened, and I don't know why."
But more than six months after Sandy struck, a visit from the bachelor prince was a lighthearted distraction for many of the hundreds who flocked to the boardwalk.
Cassidy Morris, 19, who wore a "Restore the Shore" sweat shirt and crowded onto the porch of Jimbo's restaurant, said she dreamed of a royal engagement proposal, but would settle for a glimpse.
"It's not every day a prince comes to Seaside," she said.