Yet Levinson said people should not second-guess the evacuation order.
"The unfortunate part about this is the next time people will be wary of the reports and may become reckless," Levinson said. "It's almost like people are disappointed their roofs didn't blow off."
Atlantic County Freeholder Frank Formica added: "For all the people saying we overprepared, be thankful you didn't come back to damaged homes and businesses."
Addressing the media Sunday evening, Gov. Christie underscored the need for caution on Monday, urging New Jerseyans to stay off roads if possible.
And he had strong words for those who scoffed at the mass evacuations he had ordered.
"For those folks who say now, 'Well, there wasn't abject destruction up and down the coastline, therefore we shouldn't have left, let me tell you, those type of second guessers will not be tolerated. The fact is, by moving a million people off the Jersey shore, we saved lives, and there can't really be any debate about that," Christie said.
"It looks like we dodged a bullet," said Avalon Mayor Martin Pagliughi. "It could have been a lot worse."
In Atlantic City, lights were still on around the casinos, and streets downtown were clear though largely empty.
At The View apartments, one of the high rises Atlantic City Police spent much of Saturday trying to evacuate, residents were enjoying their civil disobedience.
Blue sky began to peak out through the clouds; birds drifted overheard.
Oscar Ramirez waited out the storm in Atlantic City with his brother, but most of their family evacuated to Philadelphia.
"It sounded much worse there," Ramirez said. "There were trees coming down around the house. They haven't had power since last night. It was windy here, but not so bad."
The evacuation order for Atlantic County has been lifted, and residents can return to Atlantic City and surrounding towns.
No decision has been made on when casinos will reopen, said New Jersey Casino Control Commission spokesman Daniel Heneghan.
"They're hoping to get them open tomorrow," he said. "I don't think there's any chance they're going to open today."
The Borgata is making plans for a Monday opening, said Joe Lupo, senior vice president of operations.
"We are planning to open at noon pending regulatory approval, but that has not been granted yet," said Lupo. The Borgata, located in Atlantic City's Marina District, closed its two hotels and gaming floor at 6 p.m. Friday.
Despite all the build up - and the terrifying hour of cascading tornado warnings - the islands experienced only isolated power outages, and little damage. The ocean pushed up at the dunes, but demurely stopped there.
"Six trees and two people lost cable," joked one firefighter driving this morning.
A Ventnor police officer noted that one traffic light in town was down - but from a drunk driver.
Locals who stayed said they were a bit surprised and, frankly, disappointed, at the lack of impact Irene finally left on their town.
Atlantic City woke up to an unexpected calm. There were power outages in the city's north end and some street flooding, but nothing like what was predicted.
Bob Lampson, 45, was out riding his bike near the beach after riding out the storm in his second floor apartment.
"I've seen a lot from a regular storm," he said. "Better safe than sorry I guess, but I think they over dramatized it."
There was some beach block and Atlantic Avenue flooding in Margate and Ventnor, and Longport at one point was flooded from bay to ocean at the end (but that's just a block). A few branches, a shingle or two off the pavilion on the boardwalk, some screens in the street. Some churned up surf.
The storm surge pushed a lot of sand, including a lot of Army Corp replenished sand at the south end of Ventnor, up toward the Boardwalk in Ventnor and the seawall in Margate. By late morning, crews were pushing the sand back toward the ocean.
Overnight, the ocean roared loudly and pushed up to the dunes in many places like a freight train. But there was little sign of the powerhouse that forecasters predicted would lead to islands where the "ocean meets the bay."
"All that worrying," said Chris Ireland, of Ventnor, who stayed with her husband Jim even as everyone around them evacuated. They were the few to lose power overnight.
Terry Steen, a Ventnor and Philadelphia resident who stayed for the storm, said his wife who left had a tougher time in Philadelphia.
"This was just a regular nor'easter," Steen said. "In Philadelphia, part of our roof was lost. My daughter in Hammonton lost power."
Ted Sobieski, 52, of Voorhees and Ventnor, sent his family back home but stayed in Ventnor to see the hurricane.
"This was on my bucket list," he said.
Alas, Sunday morning, he was wondering what had happened to his epic event.
"I expected much more," he said. "I've seen nor'easters with more erosion."
Meanwhile, in Voorhees, his family had been without power for 10 hours, he said.
While the island still belonged to the brave and vindicated Sunday morning, the more prudent ones still barred from the island (although Longport seemed to be an unofficial access point), locals gathered on the boardwalk, shaking their heads at how it turned out.
"I went to sleep and figured the winds would wake me up, but I never woke up until morning," said one.
A police officer said next time an evacuation is ordered, "Nobody will leave."
Over on 11th Street in Longport - the ominous end of town since a series of storms in the early 1900's washed away the first 10 streets - Irene had pushed boulders from a seawall into the street sometime during the early morning high tide.
Bob Subranni, who has a house on the block but rode out the storm in Somers Point, said that was not unusual for his precarious location. He declared the area free of any real punishment.
"We got away with murder," he said. "We wouldn't have gone if we'd known it would be like this. We played it safe."
Contact staff writer Amy S. Rosenberg at 609-823-0453 or email@example.com and on twitter @amysrosenberg.
Staff writers Suzette Parmley and Kristen A. Graham contributed to this report.