Irene: 600 elderly refuse to evacuate Atlantic City high-rises
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie said authorities will make a “last-ditch effort” to evacuate roughly 600 senior citizens who live in Atlantic City high-rises and are refusing to leave as Hurricane Irene bears down on the coastal city.
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Atlantic City is under a mandatory evacuation order, but Christie acknowledged that if residents decline to heed the order, he cannot force them. He acknowledged that the problem “is our big concern.”
Speaking on television and addressing his remarks to the reluctant residents Saturday afternoon, Christie said: “You’re correct that I cannot make you leave your home and I certainly do not intend to place you under arrest to get you to leave. But if you stay where you are, you’re putting yourself in danger as well as your loved ones.”
Christie said the state had activated a plan to send local and state police to the high-rises to talk to the residents and persuade them to go to a shelter to ride out the storm and be returned to their homes after Irene passes. The state also is sending buses to circulate in front of the buildings and pick up residents who decide to leave, though Christie said the buses will stop coming as the storm moves in and winds pick up.
“There’s going to come a point in time later this evening when we will not be able to move you and you will have to ride out the storm,” Christie said, adding that “will not be a pleasant experience.”
Despite reports that Irene had weakened slightly, Christie said the hurricane remains on an “ominous track” for New Jersey, and that state officials expect “six to 12 inches of rain throughout the state ... and extraordinary damage to the barrier islands.”
Nothing has changed “the fundamentals of what makes this storm so dangerous for New Jersey,” he said.
Despite the holdouts in Atlantic City, Christie lauded the evacuation effort overall, estimating that “well over 90%” of Atlantic County’s residents have left.
“We are meeting the first requirement –- do everything you can to preserve human life,” Christie said. The best way to do that is to make sure “there are no humans on the New Jersey coast,” he said.
New Jersey has activated 1,500 National Guardsman to assist in evacuation efforts and to help staff shelters, Christie said, and has sports arenas on standby in various cities to serve as shelters if needed.
-- David Meeks in Vineland, N.J.
Photo: As Hurricane Irene approaches, a lone bicyclist rides on the boardwalk in Atlantic City, N.J., on Saturday. Elsewhere in the city, elderly residents were refusing to leave their high-rises. Credit: Alex Brandon / Associated Press