Atlantic City's senior citizens gamble on Hurricane Irene -- and win
Police reported no overnight problems or incidents in Atlantic City. More than 500 senior citizens who live in city high-rises had refused to evacuate, and from all accounts were fine, including more than 90 who rode out the storm together at Best of Life Park.
There was more concern further inland, where streams and rivers already swollen by rainy weather in recent weeks washed over roadways and threatened homes well away from the coast. Officials in Atlantic County, which includes Atlantic City, took heavy rainfall during the storm and officials expected totals to reach eight to 12 inches across the county.
Power outages were also widespread, and officials could offer no immediate update on when Atlantic City –- and its 11 casinos –- might reopen for business.
Many residents who stayed for Irene described it as little more than a severe thunderstorm -– downed trees, power outages and flooding roadways. But the heavy rain, coupled with the storm surge and high tides along the coast, combined to pose a dual flooding threat long after the hurricane had moved further north. Atlantic County officials were watching Great Egg Harbor River and Mullica River, which were rising and already flooding numerous roadways, even in the western parts of the county.
"Those areas along those rivers flooded two weeks ago during a storm, and that event was nowhere near this event, obviously," said Ed Conover, deputy emergency coordinator for Atlantic County.
Driving was difficult around the county, which residents said was not unusual after heavy rains. "Flooding is pretty much inevitable," Conover said. "We have a lot of roadways in low-lying areas."
Some coastal towns in southern New Jersey, such as Avalon, planned to reopen to residents later Sunday, if the roads were passable. The storm made landfall at 5:35 a.m. EDT Sunday, and at 10 a.m. was still delivering high winds, though the rain had dissipated substantially as Irene moved on toward New York City and Long Island.
In Atlantic City, Irene delivered pretty much what residents who declined to leave had expected. Some felt emergency officials’ predictions were a lot worse than longtime residents believed a Category I hurricane would deliver.
"The weatherman’s always wrong. I mean, they always say it’s going to be partly sunny or partly cloudy, which are the same thing. I just figured it wouldn’t be as bad as they said,” said Bill Penman of Absecon. Penman, who said he was born and raised in the area, spent part of Saturday night at Skelly’s Hi-Point Bar just outside Atlantic City. The bar stayed open until it lost power at about 8:30 p.m. Saturday.
Penman wasn’t too worried about the conditions outside. He said he planned to walk from the bar to his home nearby.
But the flooding of inland areas could last for several days and even get worse, Conover said, especially because of runoff from rain-swollen rivers and streams.
"The rivers already were running a bit higher. And typically, it takes a half-day or a day after a storm for that flooding to begin occurring,” Conover said.
If the Atlantic City casinos have power, their managers are likely to push to reopen as quickly as possible, many locals predicted.
"They’ll be open by Monday,” Penman said.
“Or Sunday night,” said J.D. Dineen, another bar patron who said he works as a security manager at a hotel.
-- David Meeks in Absecon, N.J.
Photo: Storm debris on the beach in Atlantic City, N.J. Credit: Alex Brandon / Associated Press