With parts of downtown Atlantic City submerged in waist-high water, a defiant Mayor Lorenzo Langford on Monday night accused N.J. Gov. Chris Christie of being “ill-advised and misinformed” in criticizing his decision to allow residents of his casino town to seek shelter in schools on the barrier island rather than moving inland.
“This is not the time — I do not wish to engage the governor in a verbal joust,” insisted Langford in a telephone interview with CNN’s Anderson Cooper. “There’ll be plenty of time for finger pointing and Monday morning quarterbacking. Right now my focus is where it should be. It’s with the residents of Atlantic City making sure that all of the resources that we have in the City of Atlantic City are made available to them, and that we get them to a safe place and keep them as safe as we possibly can until this thing is over with.”
Even before making landfall about 8 p.m. Monday 5 miles southwest of Atlantic City, the storm had done severe damage, covering most of the city with water, bringing together the bay and ocean in nearby Longport and flooding all three roads into and out of Ocean City.
With the storm closing in, Christie gave a strong rebuke to the people who chose to stay behind and to Langford in particular. Christie, a Republican, called the Democratic mayor, whom he has criticized in the past, "a rogue mayor" who's "impossible to work with."
“Right now we’re keeping our fingers crossed and we’re staying prayerful of the safety of our residents,” Langford told Cooper on Monday evening. “We don’t want to experience any loss of life. We don’t want to experience any injuries. And so we’re just doing all that we can to keep people out of harm’s way and to keep them as safe as we possibly can.”
An evacuation order Sunday helped clear out Atlantic City and shut down its 12 casinos for only the fourth time in the 34 years since gambling halls opened there. The city's historic boardwalk remained mostly intact Monday, though an old 50-foot section at the north end broke up and washed away. Officials instituted a 6 p.m. curfew.
The Press of Atlantic City reported that 135 people were in the city's shelters by Monday afternoon and an additional 1,800 stayed in high-rise buildings in the city. By late afternoon, rescue squads stopped trying to get people off flooded barrier islands, including Atlantic City, and Ocean City and turned to hopes that those stuck there would be OK in their homes until morning when crews might be able to reach them.
Roads were flooded, making it impossible for most people on the island to get off. City workers used boats to get people out of their homes and onto higher ground. Ambulances staged at the city's convention center were stranded there because the building was surrounded by water.
The wind sent chunks of billboards flying in Atlantic City, and the storm surge washed away unsecured objects including recycling bins. All the public schools were closed on Monday, and the Christie administration was urging school districts not to open on Tuesday. State offices were to be closed Tuesday for a second day.
The storm weakened a bit after it hit land, but wind gusts of up to 85 mph were expected along the shore and in inland southern New Jersey until 9 a.m. Tuesday. In inland central and northern parts of the state, gusts of up to 75 mph were forecast. Flooding also remained a danger along the coast and in low-lying areas.
"Now it feels not like I'm standing in an intersection in downtown Atlantic City," observed one CNN reporter, who was awash in the current. "It feels like I'm standing 100 feet into the ocean. These are real waves coming along."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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