STONE HARBOR - Peering out from Nesting, her storm-flooded children's boutique on Third Avenue in this tony Shore town, and experiencing a Sandy déjà vu, only colder, Maggie Day had a message for her governor.
"I was in my waders in three feet of water and my friend is saying Gov. Christie is on TV saying it's not that bad," said Day, 39, whose home and shop were damaged from winter storm Jonas, which sent icy flood waters coursing down Stone Harbor's shopping drag during each of three high tides, lifting up and sending heavy flower boxes on a choppy four-block ride past Peace A Pizza.
"Oh yeah?" Day said. "Gov. Christie should come down here and get in his fishing waders and live my life."
In Cape May County Shore towns - which were relatively, but not entirely, spared during Hurricane Sandy in 2012 - that sentiment was common Sunday. Stone Harbor, Sea Isle, and North Wildwood were hammered as bad or worse than during Sandy, residents, mayors, and merchants said, regardless of what the governor said on national television. Homes and stores were flooded over the weekend with ruinous saltwater. Beach erosion was steep and dramatic. In North Wildwood, dunes were severely clipped and beaches stripped of their sand, revealing outflow pipes.
"He couldn't claim a disaster because that would mean he'd have to stay here," said Maui D'Antuono, 52, owner of Maui's Dog House in North Wildwood. He spoke in early afternoon, streets flooded and debris-strewn long after the third high tide, power still out, hundreds out of their homes after having been rescued at high tide Saturday. Christie had by then returned to New Hampshire, where he resumed his Republican presidential primary campaign.
Christie said at a news conference in Somerset County before he left, "We don't see any significant property damage happening in Cape May County," and also said his performance during the storm showed why he should be president. He characterized the flooding as minor to moderate.
"Once the insurance claims come in, that will really tell the tale of the damage," D'Antuono said. He took a further dig at Christie: "I know he's busy trying to be our vice president and all that, but the Shore really took a pounding."
Their attitude was in stark contrast to the immediate aftermath of Sandy, when residents clung to Christie as he traveled around the damaged Shore.
D'Antuono said he had flooding in his own home, warehouse, and restaurant, as he did during Sandy. "That'll be another rebuild," he said.
North Wildwood Mayor Patrick Rosenello said the storm surge in his town was a foot higher than during Sandy, up to about 9.26 feet compared with Sandy's 8.67. He said property damage was significant, and that damage to beaches and Shore-protection systems like dunes and sea walls was major. He said the lack of evacuations prior to the storm left the town scrambling to rescue people at high tide.
"That was really the big push [Saturday], to get people out of their flooded, dark, cold home," Rosenello said. "We moved hundreds of people. This is the worst storm damage I know that many of these southern Cape May County towns have had since the 1962 storm. If it wasn't as bad further up the coast, that's a blessing. This area needs the help those areas got when they had their damage."
Kevin Roberts, the governor's spokesman, said Sunday afternoon the governor "acknowledges the most affected areas" and that "resources are being directed to assist with response and cleanup."
Rosenello said he hoped the resources would be there for his city.
Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno and Department of Environmental Protection Commissioner Bob Martin were scheduled Monday to visit the Holgate section of Long Beach Island, Stone Harbor, and North Wildwood to assess erosion and damage. They also planned to visit Ortley Beach farther up the coast in Ocean County, which sustained severe damage in Sandy.
Roberts said that "assets are being placed . . . in advance of cleanup efforts to begin preliminary damage assessments . . . without delay."
"Tell him we got hit!" said Natalie McLain, 70, of North Wildwood. She said that after seeing her house and an attached apartment get flooded again, she felt "like I could cry."
Christie made the case that the "worse than Sandy" cry was insignificant because the towns in question sustained relatively little damage during that storm compared with the rest of the Garden State. But that also meant that people like Day could not afford to raise their homes, because their damage during Sandy was less than 50 percent and they did not qualify for assistance, leaving them vulnerable this time.
Day said her shop would require gutting, as it did during Sandy. And her house had water damage in the crawl space. "When your house is wrecked and your business is wrecked and your business pays your mortgage, how do you pay your mortgage?" she said. "You're barely back on your feet financially."
Mayor Suzanne Walters of Stone Harbor said, "This water is higher than Sandy, and our beaches probably took twice what happened in Sandy as far as damage." She said the lack of a shelter on the island was problematic. Residents resisted a move to the county shelter in Woodbine; many ended up paying for a room at the Reeds Hotel, which was offering a special rate of $159 and was taking in elderly people rescued by firefighters.
Stone Harbor and North Wildwood had power restored by Sunday afternoon; Atlantic City Electric said the majority of customers would be restored by late Sunday.
"The experts kept telling us that it's not going to be as bad," said Tom Hand of Fred's Tavern, the landmark bar that was closed with about a foot and a half of flooding. He said his damage was similar to Sandy, and would require about a week to reopen. During Sandy, he said, he sustained a couple hundred thousand dollars in damage.
Pat Langford, 60, wading in high boots through water on 99th Street near Third Avenue, said she was angry that residents weren't ordered to evacuate. She said she was trapped on the island Saturday with her 84-year-old mother and no heat. They got to the nearby house of a relative who had a generator, she said.
"The mayor should have made us evacuate," she said. "If I had an emergency, we couldn't have gotten off the island. We evacuated in Sandy. This was worse. There's a lot of elderly people here. I made my mother stay in bed with blankets over her."
T.F. McCallum, owner of Eco Alley, said his shop was flooded with two or three feet of water. "I lost everything."
"The worst part is, Fred's is closed," his friend John Wilson joked. "Reeds is $15 martinis."
Elsewhere in Cape May County, officials agreed that the flooding was worse than Sandy. In Sea Isle City, Mayor Len Desiderio said he personally had a foot of water in his house, and said others in town experienced similar property damage.
Meanwhile, in Margate, there was evidence Sunday morning of water up to the bulkheads that residents insist are sufficient storm protection. But the flooded and slushy beach-block streets - which prompted Margate resident Catherine Van Duyne to dub the storm Superstorm Slushy - would probably bolster Christie's argument for dunes. On Saturday, he erroneously pointed to pictures of bay flooding when criticizing Margate's opposition to the dunes, which would be on the ocean.