BELMAR, N.J. (AP) — After Superstorm Sandy pounded the Jersey shore in 2012, Belmar was one of the first places Gov. Chris Christie visited to take stock of the damage.
On Friday, Christie was back under happier circumstances, touting the progress the Jersey shore has made recovering from Sandy.
"This place looks a heck of a lot different than when I stood here in October 2012," he said during a visit to Belmar's fog-shrouded boardwalk to kick off the unofficial start of the summer season. "The feeling here is much different. We're in a much better place."
Christie also played a short game of beanbag toss with the town's mayor, Matt Doherty.
The governor was scheduled to visit Asbury Park and Seaside Heights, which suffered an added blow when fire destroyed a large part of the rebuilt boardwalk in September.
Sandy and a rainy start were blamed for a sluggish tourism season last year. Some beachfront business owners in Monmouth and Ocean counties have told The Associated Press that sales fell 30 percent in the summer of 2013 compared with the summer before the storm.
Christie said the shore is in store for increased tourism in the second summer after Sandy — and had better be ready.
"People are coming back, and they're going to be coming back in even bigger numbers this year," he said.
Many complained the state's "Stronger than the Storm" campaign, which started on Memorial Day last year, came too late. That has been replaced by the slogan "Going Strong."
Christie joked about the switch.
"I hope you all appreciate that the 'Stronger Than The Storm' song is not on anymore," he said, adding it has been burned into his brain.
Around the shore, events to kick off the Memorial Day weekend were to be held, including ceremonies in several coastal towns where local officials symbolically unlocked the ocean for the season. In Atlantic City, Mayor Don Guardian and casino executives were to drop 5,000 beach balls from the roof of Resorts Casino Hotel.
Wayne Parry can be reached at www.twitter.com/WayneParryAC