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Raise homes or pay big, N.J. shore residents told

| Thursday, Jan. 24, 2013, 9:32 p.m.

SEASIDE HEIGHTS, N.J. — Superstorm Sandy landed one final stunning blow to New Jersey on Thursday as the state adopted rebuilding guidelines that come with sticker shock.

They will force homeowners in flood zones to spend tens of thousands of dollars to raise their houses or pay exorbitant premiums of up to $31,000 a year for flood insurance later.

Gov. Chris Christie said he adopted flood maps issued late last year by the Federal Emergency Management Agency as New Jersey's standard for rebuilding from the worst storm in its history. The superstorm destroyed more than 30,000 homes, caused $37 billion in damage and is still keeping 41,000 people out of their damaged homes.

He also said there are “very few places” where New Jerseyans won't be able to rebuild if the higher buildings standards are used.

Christie, a Republican running for re-election this November and a strong early contender for the 2016 GOP presidential nomination, stressed that the guidelines don't force anyone to raise their homes. But he laid out a stark choice: do the elevations called for under the FEMA maps or pay through the nose for flood insurance each year.

“If you choose not to, you'll have substantially higher flood insurance costs, which could be ... seven or eight times what you pay now,” he said at a news conference in Seaside Heights, where the storm wrecked the boardwalk and pitched a roller coaster into the ocean in one of Sandy's defining images.

“There's going to have to be some hard decisions made,” Christie said. “But for the shore as a whole, I think that's the right decision to make.”

The new rules took effect immediately.

Three months after Sandy hit, many homeowners are still dazed, trying to navigate a maddening maze of insurance companies, government regulations and dwindling finances. Most say they have been unable to make crucial decisions on whether and how to rebuild until clear rules were set telling them how high they had to go.

While several expressed gratitude for a clearer road map for the future, the expenses involved staggered some.

Linda Stefanik of Seaside Park is wrestling with whether to raise her business and a house she owns with her sister.

“It's a lot to take in,” she said. “It's going to average between $30,000 and $60,000 for everyone who's going to do it. Seaside Park is not all rich people. If they can't get some grants, I don't know if a lot of them will be able to do it.”

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