Hurricane Irene: NJ shelters promise elderly they can bring pets
If the 600 or so senior citizens still in Atlantic City don't evacuate before Hurricane Irene hits, it won't be because they couldn't bring their pets.
Atlantic County officials said the shelters they have opened at public schools allow residents to bring their pets, provided the animals are in crates or carriers, though one shelter required that owners keep their pets in vehicles.
The county opened a third shelter on Saturday after the first two neared capacity, and it allows pets to be brought inside.
"We didn't want that to be a hangup. We didn't want people to say, 'I can't leave because of my pets,' " said Linda Gilmore, a spokeswoman for Atlantic County government.
Residents who declined to evacuate because of their pets became a serious issue in New Orleans in 2005, when authorities refused to allow residents to bring their pets on government vehicles or to shelters. The rules were later changed, but after many people said they had been forced to leave their pets behind.
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie said earlier Saturday that more than 1 million people had evacuated the New Jersey coast and that the state was making a "last-ditch effort" to get every resident off the coast, including about 600 senior citizens who had refused to leave their homes in high-rises in Atlantic City.
Christie said authorities planned to speak with the residents individually to encourage them to leave and would provide bus transportation and shelter. But the residents would not be forced out, Christie said.
Authorities blocked all roads to Atlantic City and were only allowing people to leave the island, Gilmore said.
"Once you leave, you cannot return until we get an all clear," she said. She added that would depend on conditions on the island, not just the storm passing, as authorities are expecting serious flooding and damage.
Officials said they expected Irene to hit the New Jersey coast overnight during a 12-hour window from roughly midnight Saturday until about noon on Sunday.
Most people who evacuated Atlantic City made their own arrangements for lodging, though Atlantic County officials said they had about 700 residents in shelters by Saturday afternoon. The county said it still had space available, though other counties were reporting shelters were full or nearly full.
-- David Meeks in Egg Harbor Township, N.J.
Photo: New Jersey Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno, left, talks to Hurricane Irene evacuees from Atlantic City during a visit to a shelter at Rutgers University in New Brunswick Saturday. Shelter officials were hoping that elderly residents of high-rises would join them. Credit: AP Photo/Julio Cortez