New Jersey to give burned boardwalk businesses $15 million for repairs

By David Jones

NEWARK, New Jersey (Reuters) - Two New Jersey beach towns will get $15 million in state aid to repair damage from a boardwalk fire that devastated the resorts that had to rebuild after Superstorm Sandy, Governor Chris Christie said on Saturday.

The fast-moving blaze swept across the Seaside Park and Seaside Heights boardwalk on Thursday, engulfing scores of businesses and taking 400 firefighters hours to put it out.

Sandy pummeled the communities in October 2012, and they had recovered only months before the fire. One of the most famous images from the storm was that of a Seaside Heights roller coaster that had fallen into the Atlantic Ocean, remained half-submerged for months and drew a steady stream of sightseers.

"Getting financial assistance to fire-damaged businesses is a critical step to Seaside's economic recovery, and we're acting quickly to make that happen," Christie said in a statement after meeting business owners, residents and local officials.

He said the state Economic Development Authority would hold a special meeting on Wednesday and extend $15 million from Sandy relief programs to support businesses hurt by the fire.

Christie said more than 50 businesses were damaged. The funds will be available whether or not a business was affected by Sandy.

About four blocks of the rebuilt boardwalk were burned and torn up to make a fire break. Some $5 million will go for demolition and removal of debris and rebuilding it, the statement said.

The Ocean County prosecutor's office said the fire had flared up overnight, but it had been contained.

No cause has been determined, but local media has reported that electrical wiring under a frozen custard stand had caught fire, burned through the stand and spread to other food stands.

(Reporting by David Jones, editing by Ian Simpson and Philip Barbara)

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