Hundreds of people packed the boardwalk this morning in Seaside Heights as the New Jersey shore community greeted Prince Harry, third in line to the British throne.
The town’s boardwalk, which gained fame as the setting for MTV’s “Jersey Shore” reality show, was cordoned for blocks and workers hurried to open empty taffy stands and carnival games ahead of the visit. The crowd included a stilt walker and an Elvis impersonator in a blue sequined jumpsuit.
Television trucks were parked for blocks outside the secured zone and spectators mingled with reporters pushed against the metal fence. Earlier today, the entourage visited Mantoloking, where more than half the houses were destroyed after Hurricane Sandy hit the coast on Oct. 29.
“People don’t understand how far we’ve come since Sandy,” said Michelle Jackson, who along with her husband, Jeffrey, owns Jimbo’s Bar and Grill, a Seaside boardwalk restaurant that did a brisk business serving coffee and breakfast sandwiches to the gathered media. “I don’t think it will be 100 percent, only because we lost some of the rides, but I don’t think it’s as bad as some people think, and I hope this puts a spotlight on that.”
The 28-year-old prince’s visit to the Jersey Shore is part of a week-long U.S. tour that also includes stops in Washington, Colorado and New York. New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, who is seeking a second term in November as he enjoys a rise in approval levels in the wake of Sandy, accompanied the prince on his visit to the state.
Christie, 50, whose blue fleece pullover became a trademark because he wore it often as he toured storm damage, gave Prince Harry his own fleece jacket as he greeted him. The governor’s wife, Mary Pat, and four children were also there.
New Jersey’s recovery shows a “fantastic American spirit,” Prince Harry told reporters. “Everyone getting together and making things right.”
In Seaside, the prince and the governor both wore button-down shirts, long pants and sunglasses as they greeted first responders and construction crews before strolling along the part of the boardwalk that has been rebuilt. The prince and Christie played a ball-toss carnival game as children watched and cheered, and then played balloon darts.
Christie, after winning the ball toss, handed the blue plush bird prize to 7-year-old Michael Vanover, a red-headed first-grader from Toms River. The boy said he spoke to the prince and “he was pretty cool because we have the same hair color.”
Vanover, who was there with his grandmother, told reporters he wasn’t sure whether the best part of the day was missing school or meeting the prince: “Actually, it was both.”
Sandy destroyed or damaged 365,000 homes in New Jersey, and Christie has said it will cost $36.9 billion for repairs and prevention of devastation from future storms. The federal government last month approved $1.8 billion in grants to help residents and businesses recover. Shore towns are preparing for the traditional Memorial Day kick-off of the summer tourist season later this month.
Seaside provided an iconic Sandy image with pictures of the Jet Star roller coaster ripped off the boardwalk pier and half-submerged off shore. The ride will be removed starting later today, the Star-Ledger of Newark reported.
In Mantoloking, a barrier-island community where the median value of houses was $2.5 million when the storm hit, the surge washed out a narrow strip of land and cut a new inlet, allowing water from the Atlantic Ocean to rush into Barnegat Bay. Uprooted homes floated in the waterway and runaway boats were stacked like toys in yards and on debris piles.