SEASIDE HEIGHTS, NEW JERSEY —
Britain's Prince Harry praised "that great American spirit'' on Tuesday during his tour of the recovering Jersey Shore, where crews were dismantling a landmark roller coaster - a symbol of Superstorm Sandy's destruction.
Cheers erupted from the crowd assembled on the freshly cut boardwalk as the prince and his escort, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, shook hands with residents of storm-battered beach towns, cleanup volunteers and local officials.
Prince Harry told one woman that the region's determination to rebuild showed "that great American spirit,'' and assured others the East Coast summer playground would thrive once again.
"You're going to have thousands of people here, and you need to get ready,'' the soft-spoken royal told Jennifer Maier, borough administrator of hard-hit Union Beach, which lost 220 homes in the Oct. 29 storm.
Visible in the ocean behind them was the towering frame of the Jet Star roller coaster, washed out to sea by Sandy and being dismantled and removed by crews more than six months later.
Chilly sea breezes carried the scent of fresh-cut lumber over the gathering of about 100 spectators - and even more reporters, photographers and TV crews. They pressed against metal barricades draped with the red, white and blue British Union Jack.
"It's great exposure for the Shore,'' said Roger Gibson, 27, a manager of a boardwalk staple, Jimbo's Bar & Grill. "It lets people know we are open and ready for business.''
Crews will start work on Tuesday to dismantle and remove the Jet Star and other amusement park rides submerged nearby.
"We are here to say goodbye,'' said Kim Stone of Bayville, New Jersey.
Casino Pier, which owns the amusement rides, said the removal would take about 48 hours.
Sandy slammed into New Jersey on Oct. 29, ravaging the coastline, causing $30 billion in damage. Prince Harry and Governor Christie began their tour in Mantoloking, a narrow barrier island community between New Jersey and the Atlantic Ocean, where all 521 houses were affected.
When Jersey Shore residents were evacuated, most expected they would return after a few days and were stunned when the devastation turned out to be so extreme that it would be months before they could go home.
More than 130 people throughout the U.S. Northeast died as a result of the storm.
Before Prince Harry left the Seaside Heights boardwalk, he peeled away from the crowd and spoke with Taylor Cirigliano, 11, and her sister Allie, 7, of Middletown. They were lamenting their lack of success at a boardwalk "ball toss,'' where players try to toss a ball into progressively smaller cups in order to win a prize.
"We are going to win you something,'' Prince Harry told Taylor.
With a couple of tosses of the ball, Prince Harry snagged a stuffed blue elephant and a Hello Kitty doll and handed them over to the beaming girls.