Britain's Prince Harry expressed astonishment at the damage still evident on the New Jersey shore from Hurricane Sandy on Tuesday as he toured hard-hit towns and took in the view of the historic Seaside Heights roller coaster, which was washed into the sea during the storm.
Shortly after Harry left the area, a huge metal claw hanging from a crane began dismantling the roller coaster, which was knocked from a pier and thrown into the ocean at the height of last fall's storm. Officials decided it was impossible to salvage the amusement park ride and had planned to begin tearing it down, chunk by chunk, this week.
Harry's visit is part of a weeklong U.S. tour that has also taken the 28-year-old prince to Colorado, Washington D.C., and New York, and which will include a stop in Greenwich, Conn., for some polo-playing time. It was the stop in New Jersey that was the most somber, serving as a reminder of the challenges still facing shore towns as they face their crucial summer holiday season.
"This used to be a house?" the prince said as New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie showed him an area of Mantoloking where several homes were destroyed by the storm surge. In fact, all 521 homes in the town were damaged or destroyed by Sandy. More than 50 of the homes were swept away completely.
The prince, who is third in line to the British throne, also visited Seaside Heights, N.J., best known perhaps as the town where the television show "Jersey Shore" was set, but since Sandy remembered for its famous boardwalk and beloved roller coaster. Thousands of people lined the boardwalk -- where many businesses have reopened in anticipation of summer crowds -- to catch a glimpse of royalty.
"It's the whole fairy tale thing. He's a real live prince, here in New Jersey," 21-year-old Taylor Marchal said as she and her 19-year-old sister, Brianna, tried to take pictures of Harry, the Associated Press reported.
Union Jack flags were flying in the sea breeze and welcome signs were posted throughout Seaside Heights and Mantoloking as Harry passed through, stopping to shake hands with emergency workers who were on duty throughout Sandy's wrath and to chat with some residents.
New Jersey and New York bore the brunt of Sandy, which made landfall on Oct. 29 on the Jersey Shore. About 360,000 New Jersey homes were damaged by Sandy, and the Federal Emergency Management Agency said 50,000 of them suffered major damage. It estimated commercial property losses at $382 million. But FEMA says a more than $7-million project to rebuild the Seaside Heights boardwalk should be completed in time for the Memorial Day weekend.
But there will be no pier or roller coaster, at least not for a while, and the sight of the old Jet Star coaster sitting in the waves just off the beach should be gone in about 48 hours. Once the demolition is completed, a section of the amusement park ride will be used as a memorial and placed on the new pier, when it is built.
"It's fantastic American spirit, everyone getting together and making things right," Harry said as he walked through a beachside arcade with Christie.
The governor concurred.
"I agree with Prince Harry - NJ’s resiliency does show fantastic American spirit," Christie tweeted.
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