One death at Shore; A.C. mayor disputes Christie

The road to Stone Harbor, Oct 30, 2012 (Photo: Jason Nark / Staff )
The road to Stone Harbor, Oct 30, 2012 (Photo: Jason Nark / Staff )
Posted: October 31, 2012

As Atlantic City officials reported one death from Sandy, a senior citizen who died of a heart attack, the mayor on Tuesday defended himself against Gov. Christie's criticism of his handling of evacuations.

Mayor Lorenzo Langford told a news conference that contrary to allegations by the governor, he had in fact urged residents to leave the island as the storm bore down and that most of them did.

Langford said he kept emergency shelters of last resort open during the storm for residents who had disobeyed evacuation orders.

"In any situation, you're never gonna bat 1,000," he said. "For the people who decided at the last minute, it was better to have options and not need them than to need options and not have them."

Langford called Christie's comments "reprehensible" and said the governor was "dead wrong" about the city administration's response to the evacuations.

Monday evening, the governor alleged during a news conference that Langford had discouraged people from leaving the city.

On Tuesday, Langford shrugged off the governor's suggestion that he was difficult to work with.

"The only person who seems to have a problem with this mayor is this governor," he said.

The political kerfuffle unfolded as officials in Atlantic City scrambled to fully assess the extensive damage caused by Sandy, which scored a direct hit there Monday night, submerging most of the city.

Officials reported one fatality - a senior citizen who went into cardiac arrest on a bus while being evacuated from the city. Officials said they weren't expecting any more deaths related to the storm, though the fire department was canvassing the city Tuesday morning to check on residents who had stayed behind.

Atlantic City EMS received 94 calls for service and took 91 people to the hospital between 8 a.m. Sunday and 8 a.m. Tuesday, said Tom Foley, the chief of emergency management.

In that time period, the combined efforts of the city's fire, police and EMS departments, as well as the National Guard, helped 215 residents to safety, officials said. The city also received 851 emergency calls during that period, Foley said.

Langford said 30,000 of the city's 39,000 residents left town on their own. Another 2,600 left on evacuation buses, while 275 took refuge at emergency shelters across the city.

The Old Soldier's Home, one of the shelters opened for residents fleeing their homes, itself was emptied out around 9 p.m. Monday with help from the National Guard, Langford said. He said he was at that shelter as floodwaters rose about ankle-deep there and evacuees were pulled out.

Minutes later, he said, the National Guard itself received an order to pull out of the then-impassable area.

Foley said the city saw up to 8 feet of flooding during the storm, and that the largest sustained winds recorded in the city were up to 65 mph. Gusts of 85 mph were also recorded.

Authorities in Atlantic City were going door to door early this morning. Some streets were still impassable. And parts of the boardwalk were torn away in the north end.

The worst flooding occurred in low-lying areas, near the inlet and bay, according to Capt. Pete McCabe of the Atlantic City Fire Department.

The National Guard navigated the flooded streets this morning with five-ton vehicles to rescue people.

"There appears to be fairly significant damage from high winds and water," said Capt. Frank Brennan, of the Atlantic City Police Department. "Last night's high tide covered more than 85 percent of Atlantic City."

The downbeach communities of Ventnor, Margate and Longport were hammered with flooding and heavy winds into early Tuesday morning that followed Sandy's calm landfall with hours of pummeling.

Beach blocks looked like rivers with fast moving currents of rain water that had backed up in the streets. But Tuesday morning revealed less damage to the beaches than expected.

In some places, the ocean foam got over the dunes, carving up chunks but leaving them relatively intact. The boardwalk was undamaged, and both the Ventnor and Margate Piers - rumors notwithstanding - were undamaged.

Dune fencing was ripped up, and a lifeguard storage shed that had started at Suffolk Avenue and the beach in Ventnor set sail and ended up at the pier about eight blocks away.

An unmoored Hobie Cat continued its tangle with dune fencing. On Newport Avenue, firefighter Joseph Callahan and Fire Chief John Hazlett cleared off dune fencing from the boardwalk as they surveyed the damage from the storm, which, all in all, was not as bad as feared. "The beach looks pretty good," Hazlett said. "The dunes worked."

Damage to homes appeared to be mostly from flooding, with some rain gutters, storm doors and other minor wind damage. The main roads through the towns, Ventnor and Atlantic Avenue were dry Tuesday morning.

Hazlett said the firefighters responded to two car fires overnight in flooded Ventnor Heights, loading equipment into aluminum boats and floating them down streets. They rode up the flooded streets in a city front-end loader more commonly used to fashion dunes on the beach.

Firefighter Joseph Callahan had to dive under waist-deep flood water to hook up a fire hose at the scene of the fire.

"All those years of body surfing come in handy when you have to stick your head under water to hook up a hose," Hazlett said, as the two drove down the Ventnor boardwalk.

Hazlett said the firefighters lost power and backup power in the New Haven Avenue firehouse, and watched for hours as flood waters rushed into the firehouse like a river. "Overall, we've never seen water like this," he said. "It's a historic storm."

He said he had about four to five feet of water in his own basement. The firehouse had about a foot of water.

Hazlett said the company had spent most of Monday rescuing people in Ventnor Heights and elsewhere who had second thoughts about staying as the waters rose around them. About three dozen were taken to the Holy Family School on Ventnor Avenue, where a makeshift shelter was set up.

By 4 p.m., though, with winds picking up, those efforts were suspended, and people were stuck.

All in all, though, Hazlett said Tuesday morning, the beaches seemed in much better shape than expected. In the south end of town, where there are no dunes, the storm had pushed sand back behind the Boardwalk and into the street, creating dunes.

In Longport, Atlantic Avenue and beach blocks were covered with sand, a foot deep in some cases. Some beachfront homes sustained tremendous damage - first floor sliding glass doors and windows were gone, leaving the ground floors completely open to the ocean front.

Inside, furniture had been pushed to the opposite end of the house, plywood was strewed about, broken parts of decks and floors scattered about, curtains and doors flapped around in the breeze. In one house, near 24th Street, the first floor was covered with sand and water. A burst kitchen pipe gushed water into the first floor unchecked.

City engineer Dick Carter was assessing the damage. Despite the devastation to individual properties, he said, "I think we dodged a major bullet."

Access to The Point, the narrow southern end of the island, was cut off because it was still under several feet of water.

A fire official said that they had evacuated all but one person from that area. The lone person who remained was believed to be fine.

In all, borough officials expected about three dozen beachfront homes to have sustained significant damage from the storm.

"The first floors are toast," said a Longport fire official.

In Margate, a town with no dunes or boardwalk, some beach blocks were covered with sand Tuesday morning.

Public works crews used a bulldozer to clear sand from Atlantic Avenue, leaving piles of sand along the avenue.

Debris from decks, fencing, gutters, and trash cans were scattered along beach blocks.

The public works crew said the ocean met the bay in most of Margate Monday night. Shopkeepers were reporting a foot or more of water in stores along Ventnor Avenue.

Both the Ventnor and Margate Piers - rumors notwithstanding - were undamaged.

While the entire length of the Garden State Parkway reopened Tuesday morning, access to Ocean City, Sea Isle City and other Cape May County barrier islands remained closed to mainland traffic.

Emergency Management officials were busy assessing "severe" beach erosion and checking on the residents who had opted to ride out the storm in the islands. It will be "well after" this morning's high tide at 9 a.m. before officials will likely give the all clear to return, according to Laurie Howey, a spokeswoman for Ocean City's emergency management office.

Howey said the biggest concern of year-around residents who had fled and second-homeowners is finding out the status of their properties.

"We have a litany of people calling in for information about their properties," Howey said. "Everybody wants to get back to check their houses."

Howey said if anyone is allowed back, they will likely only have a "window of time" between high tides to do so, because tidal flooding was expected to continue at least through Tuesday.

Authorities said residents will not be allowed to return to Cape May's barrier islands Tuesday but did not give a time when they would.

" Ocean City got hit really bad," said Cape May County freeholder director Gerald M. Thornton. "Structural damage, water in the downtown. There's going to be a lot of cleanup."

Floodwaters slowly receded Tuesday afternoon as the tide went out. But 26,000 people in Cape May County remained without power and residents were ordered to stay off the roads.

Still, a trickle of residents tried to return to their homes throughout the day.

At Reeds Beach, in Middle Township, more than 10 cars were lined up waiting for police to let them back in.

"We're going to wait for the water to come down and take a walk," said Vic Turkot, 58, "but it looks pretty bad."

Mariann Storr, who evacuated Brigantine with her two girls and two boys but said her husband stayed behind, said the island was devastated by water damage.

"The neighbors floating dock was in the yard between us," she said Monday morning. "A lot of water damage. A friend said her whole downstairs was devastated with water. There was water up to the mailboxes. The water in Brigantine is unbelievable."

She said authorities were telling people it would 10 to 15 days without power in Brigantine. Storr said she was told authorities had turned the power off at the substation to prevent (transformer) fires. "It's a mess," she said.

Still, as the eye of the storm passed over Brigantine there was an unannounced calm. Her husband, Scott, she said, "Took a picture of what he said was the eye. The moon was out, the stars were out. It was incredible."

The Atlantic City Expressway is still sprinkled with debris. But outbound lanes are clear.

Near the inlet between Atlantic City and Brigantine - which saw some of Sandy's worst flooding - chunks of the city's famed boardwalk had been pushed into the streets. On one block facing the beach, the garage doors of nearly every home had been torn off.

Residents rode bikes past downed power lines and broken windows, swept up glass in the streets and mobbed the single convenience store open on Atlantic Avenue.

Some who stayed despite multiple warnings to evacuate said the storm was much worse than they expected.

"I really didn't take it that serious," said Zelphia Connor, 40, who woke up this morning to find a section of the Atlantic City boardwalk had smashed through her garage on St. Katherine Street. "I figured that last time it wasn't that bad - and this time it was. I have the boardwalk in my garage."

A few hundred people remained at the Atlantic City High School shelter. An elementary school shelter was closed on flooding fears and people were relocated to the high school.

Towns along eastern shore of Cape May were still flooded Tuesday morning, as authorities began to assess the extent of the damage.

Middle Township Mayor Dan Lockwood said storm surges and High winds had knocked down homes on both sides of the peninsula and neighborhoods remained under as much as three feet of water.

"It was as bad as we thought it was going to be," he said.

Roads to barrier islands, including Stone Harbor and Avalon, remained closed with no estimate on when residents would be allowed to return.

On the mainland, there was isolated flooding along the Back Bay which had left the popular area restaurant Lobster House flooded.

Inquirer staff writers James Osborne and Jacqueline L. Urgo contributed to this article.

comments powered by Disqus