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Business owner: Jersey boardwalk fire 'slow-motion disaster'

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 By Tom Watkins and Mayra Cuevas

(CNN) -- "We felt paralyzed."

Eric Faranda stood helpless as flames engulfed his New Jersey business of 20 years -- newly rebuilt after Superstorm Sandy tore it apart less than a year ago.

"We actually watched it happen," Faranda told CNN on Saturday. "We were in the building the morning of the fire. We had left briefly, came back to see the smoke start down in Seaside Park. As it slowly and quickly consumed our building and everything in between. It was awful."

In a matter of hours, Faranda's Shore Amusements game store in Seaside Heights was gone ... again.

"We wanted to do something to help. We wanted to stop it, but there was nothing that we could do to make that happen. It was watching a slow-motion disaster. It was not something that I want to relive," he said.

Last year, Faranda borrowed funds against the value of his home to rebuild his business.

"I don't have the means to pay back what we rebuilt last time. It's not only about not having a job or income. It's about the bills we've accumulated to get to the point we have now," he said.

Faranda estimated the loses from the Thursday fire to be more than $100,000.

"Everything that you need to create and maintain a business has been destroyed," he said. "The more and more we think about it, the more financial trouble we're in."

On Saturday, Faranda and other business owners met with Gov. Chris Christie in a closed meeting to discuss the future of the boardwalk. Christie announced an initial $15 million in aid to help rebuild.

"It was very upbeat and uplifting," Faranda said of the meeting. "He (Christie) had a wealth of information for us, for help that's going to be available, grants, loans. He wants this place to return. And I believe he's going to give us what we need to make it happen."

Before the meeting, Christie toured the boardwalk. He was met by a crowd of fans and supporters who stopped him to greet him and take their pictures with him.

"We are trying to come up with a plan to help at a state level and a federal level as well," said Christie, " I think we will have ways to move this along relatively quickly. Get demolition going and for those who want to rebuild to get them some assistance to help them rebuild."

Christie said his team is focused on rebuilding, once again, what was lost.

"The time for sadness is over now. We had two days to feel sad about this. It is legitimately a sad thing, but we've got work to do now."

Faranda agrees. The boardwalk has been a part of his life since he was 13.

"It's in my blood. When you work on the boardwalk and you're part of it, it's a magical place. And I want back," he said.

Blaze remains under investigation

On Saturday, Investigators sifted through ashes to determine the cause of the blaze that obliterated much of the Jersey shore boardwalk.

"No one at the Ocean County Prosecutor's Office has labeled the fire suspicious," said Al Della Fave, director of public affairs. "Our only comment is that the investigation continues. There will be no more additional comments or releases, until the investigation is complete."

Minor rekindling of the fire in Seaside Park occurred overnight, but posed little danger, he said. "This is to be expected. On-scene units have the fire contained and are staying on top of minor flare ups."

The massive swath of boardwalk damaged in the fire had been freshly rebuilt after Sandy wrecked it last October.

Hundreds of firefighters worked for nine hours before getting the fire under control Thursday night.

Dozens of businesses were destroyed in the fire, Christie told reporters Friday.

Officials earlier noted that other structures were damaged when winds carried embers from a frozen custard shop, where they believe the fire started, up the boardwalk to a condominium complex, pier and an arcade, city and county officials said.

There was a firefighter convention in Wildwood, 90 miles south, at the time, so roughly 400 firefighters from 30 towns -- many of them volunteer units -- responded, Seaside Heights Mayor Bill Akers said Friday.

Had they not been nearby, the damage could have extended beyond six blocks of boardwalk in Seaside Park and two blocks in Seaside Heights, he said, estimating that reconstruction costs will reach the millions.

The Seaside Heights boardwalk was in the public eye shortly after Superstorm Sandy blew its famous Jet Star roller coaster into the water last year. The coaster was removed from the ocean in May, shortly before the boardwalk reopened for business.

Town officials plan to meet with business owners and help them rebuild, said Seaside Park Town Administrator Robert Martucci.

Akers added that the town will also assess the damage.

"If there's a silver lining, we just built it. We have the specs. We know what we're doing," the mayor said. "We'll get it back up."
   
 CNN's Chris Welch contributed to this report
   
 The-CNN-Wire
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