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Obama returning to Jersey Shore to check up on post-Sandy recovery

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People walk along the broadwalk in Seaside Heights, New Jersey on the first weekend of New Jersey beaches re-opening to the public, Sunday.

President Obama travels to New Jersey on Tuesday for a progress report on the state's recovery from Superstorm Sandy that on the surface appears remarkable but which hides deep and lingering pain.

Sandy caused about $40 billion worth of damage when it wrecked the Jersey shore in October, killing dozens of people, forcing thousands of residents to flee and destroying nearly 350,000 homes.

For the first time since the days after Superstorm Sandy struck, President Obama is paying a visit to the Jersey Shore and will survey the recovery progress with New Jersey Governor Chris Christie. NBC's Peter Alexander reports.

Much of the tourist-magnet shoreline itself raced back to business in time to open for the Memorial Day holiday Monday. But you don't have to go far to find long-lasting scars that will take years to heal.

"Life for the tourists — when they come down — they're not going to notice any change from last year to this year," Michael Corbally, a member of the Point Pleasant Beach City Council, told NBC News. But "for the homeowners, it's very unfortunate."

Homeowners say insurance money has been slow to arrive. Developers claim that remapping of flood zones threatens to slow rebuilding. And small businesses that cater to the shore's $19 billion tourist industry are struggling.

New Jersey has 130 miles of coastline, drawing 59 million tourists a year.

Marilyn Schlossbach, a restaurateur who runs several eateries in the area, said progress was real but slow.

"We're not trying to build a mansion here and retire," Schlossbach told NBC News. "We're trying to get back to work."

For Gov. Chris Christie, Obama's visit will rekindle an unlikely political bromance that struck up when Christie — a fiscally conservative Republican who's widely believed to be considering a White House campaign in 2016 — put aside political differences and praised Obama's response to the crisis in the weeks after the storm.

Christie took flak from fellow Republicans for traveling around the state with Obama late last year.

But, in an interview on NBC's TODAY on Friday ahead of Obama's visit, he insisted that "emergencies are a totally different thing."

"Americans help other Americans when we're in trouble, and that's always been what this country has been about," Christie said. 

"You can't experience it unless you're here and see for yourself, and he's the president of the United States," Christie said. "If he wants to come and see the people of New Jersey, I'm the governor and I'll be here to welcome him."

It will be the second unusual pairing for Christie during his efforts to promote the region. Earlier his month, he was joined on the boardwalk by Britain's Prince Harry, who praised "that great American spirit" while touring the reconstructed zone.

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie speaks with TODAY's Matt Lauer about the Jersey shore's recovery process post-Sandy.

Obama's visit may also give the president the opportunity for a political respite after a stormy few weeks on Capitol Hill.

With Congress away for the Memorial Day break, the Jersey trip - and its message of recovery - is less likely to be overshadowed by discussion of the IRS controversy, the killing of four Americans at the consulate in Benghazi, Libya, and media leaks.

On Sunday, he traveled to Oklahoma to view more weather damage - this time from the deadly tornado that killed 24 people on May 20. 

The president has sought to portray his administration as being quick and effective at responding to natural disasters, Reuters reported, in contrast to his predecessor, George W. Bush, whose administration was criticized for its handling of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans in 2005.

Mario Tama / Getty Images

Residents of the Northeast are still picking up the pieces after Superstorm Sandy.

A White House official said Obama and Christie would view the recovery efforts from Sandy, including preparations by local businesses ahead of the important summer tourist season. 

"The president ... will visit with families and business owners who have shown such resilience in the face of the destructive storm, highlight the extensive rebuilding efforts to date, and underscore his administration's ongoing commitment to stand with the impacted communities as the important work of recovery continues," the White House official told Reuters.

NBC News' Alastair Jamieson and Reuters contributed to this report.


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