SEASIDE HEIGHTS, N.J. (AP) — Nearly five years after Superstorm Sandy plunged a roller coaster into the sea in what became one of the storm's most enduring images, the ride has been replaced — safely inland this time.
Hydrus opened this month at the Casino Pier amusement park, built above the beach rather than out over the water to prevent another catastrophe. It's not only thrilling riders; it's also raising spirits in a section of the Jersey shore where not everything is yet back to normal after the October 2012 storm.
"This is part of the rebirth of the town," said Mayor Anthony Vaz, who was among the many Seaside Heights residents displaced from their homes by the storm. "It's like a new start for us."
Seeing the Jet Star rusting away in the surf was painful, the mayor said.
"It went from icon to eyesore," he said.
Vaz estimated the resort town made infamous by the MTV reality show "Jersey Shore" has made a 70 percent recovery from Sandy. The borough's taxable property is still worth about $200 million less than it was before the storm.
Its neighbor to the north, the Ortley Beach section of the community of Toms River, is still struggling. Many vacation homes near the beach that were destroyed have yet to be rebuilt, and many streets are pockmarked with empty lots and half-built wooden frames.
And to the south, businesses along the boardwalk in adjacent Seaside Park are still being rebuilt following a fire that swept through the Seaside Heights and Seaside Park boardwalks in September 2013.
Maria Mastoris, a spokeswoman for Casino Pier, said the company never doubted it would replace the Jet Star.
"Our team at Casino Pier has worked extremely hard since Hurricane Sandy in 2012 to rebuild and come back from the devastation," she said. "With our brand new roller coaster Hydrus, and Ferris wheel on our brand new extended pier, we can finally close the book on Sandy and start fresh."
Mastoris would not say how much the ride cost to build other than to say "millions."
Getting the new coaster in place took some doing. The old pier jutted out over the water; one of the main attractions of the Jet Star was the sensation of looking down and seeing the waves underneath.
But after Sandy destroyed part of the pier, it was obvious that a safer plan would be to build the new roller coaster on the beach.
That required a complicated land swap among Casino Pier and Seaside Heights because the ride would be occupying beachfront land that had public use restrictions on it.
In return for permission from the state Department of Environmental Protection to use the beach, Casino Pier donated land to the borough for additional parking, and gave the borough a historic boardwalk carousel that was due to be dismantled and sold off piece by piece. It will be displayed in a museum on the donated land.
Painted neon green and bright blue, the roller coaster has a 72-foot vertical drop, and several loops and twists that rattle the brains more than on the Jet Star. It costs about $10 to ride, although tickets can be bought cheaper in bulk.
"It was awesome!" exclaimed Alison Cornell of Belvidere, New Jersey. "It looked like you were going right in to the ocean. It was exhilarating. You get a 360-degree view of the whole area around it. It was really exciting."
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