ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. (AP) — A year after telling New Jersey residents to “Get the hell off the beach” as Hurricane Irene approached, Gov. Chris Christie has a new message for people on the coastline: “Don’t be stupid. Get out.” Hurricane Sandy is poised to make a direct hit on New Jersey, Gov. Chris Christie issued the typically blunt warning to those thinking of riding it out in low-lying coastal areas.
The storm was still hundreds of miles away, but was already making its approach known to New Jersey on Sunday with high winds, rough surf and coastal flooding as thousands of people fled to what they hoped would be safer ground.
Christie, who famously urged New Jersey residents last year to “get the hell off the beach” as Hurricane Irene approached, urged residents of the state’s narrow barrier islands to move to higher ground. He predicted the storm would come ashore somewhere between Toms River and Atlantic City.
Sandy was just one component of a massive storm predicted to come together over the eastern third of the U.S., threatening damaging wind, possible record-setting flooding and prolonged power outages. Christie ordered the evacuations of all Atlantic City casinos, and New York City announced it would be shutting down its mass transit system.
Christie on Sunday asked President Barack Obama to issue a pre-landfall emergency declaration that would qualify New Jersey for reimbursement actions it took to get ready for the storm.
“I think this one’s going to do us in,” said Marc Palazzolo, owner of a bait and tackle shop on an inlet to the ocean in Point Pleasant Beach. He used the same wood he boarded up the store with in past storms to secure it this time, crossing out the names of hurricanes Isaac and Irene and spray-painting “Sandy” next to them.
“I got a call from a friend of mine from Florida last night who said, ‘Marc: Get out! If it’s not the storm, it’ll be the aftermath. People are going to be fighting in the streets over gasoline and food,” he said.
Yet Palazzolo was floored by the response to a Facebook plea he issued Saturday night for people to come help him fill sandbags to protect his shop and nearby buildings: 30 people showed up, many of them strangers. One man drove more than two hours from Bergen County to pitch in.
In Atlantic City, an evacuation of residents from the gambling resort was under way, with people lined up at the Convention Center to board buses to shelters on the mainland. It was the same spot from which 9,000 people were sent off the island in August 2011 as Irene approached.
Denise Faulkner was one of them then, and she’s one of them this time, too.
“I’m real overwhelmed,” she said as she waited for a bus with her 7-month-old daughter, her 3- and 12-year-old sons and her boyfriend. “We’re at it again. Last year we had to do it. This year we have to do it. And you have to be around all sorts of people. Strangers. It’s a bit much.
“We’re leaving just to protect the kids,” she said. “It looks like it’s going to be real serious this year.”
Residents of the state’s southern barrier islands were ordered to leave their homes by 4 p.m. Sunday, and Christie ordered the evacuations of all Atlantic City casinos for only the fourth time in the 34-year history of legalized gambling here. State parks will also close.
Residents of northern New Jersey river communities braces for another round of the flooding that has become commonplace for them. Pompton Lakes has been hit by flooding several times in the last decade, most notably last year after the remnants of Hurricane Irene swept through the area and left dozens of businesses and homes severely damaged.
“People just love to live here,” said Alan Lovitch, who has called the town home for nearly 50 years. “Even if they’ve been flooded five or six times, they’ll raise up their homes and stay. I guess some of them love the river view — as long as it’s not in their basement.”
To help ease the evacuations, tolls were suspended on the northbound Garden State Parkway from Cape May to the Driscoll Bridge and on the full length of the westbound Atlantic City Expressway. The toll suspension started Sunday morning and was to remain in effect until further notice, officials said.
New York City announced its subways, buses and trains would stop running Sunday night because of the danger of flooding, and Mayor Michael Bloomberg ordered an evacuation of the low-lying areas along the edges of the city.
Low-lying areas along the Jersey shore were already taking on water Sunday because of a convergence of high winds and high tides. Some streets in Manasquan were beginning to flood.
Some shore communities, including Point Pleasant and Point Pleasant Beach, planned to ban alcohol sales from bars and liquor stores from 5 p.m. Sunday until Wednesday morning. Police said they did not want anyone on the roads — or even out of their homes — who didn’t need to be.
At gas stations across the state, drivers lined up Sunday to fill their tanks before the rain started falling.
In Sea Bright, the Coast Guard and a fishing vessel crew rescued a surfer who couldn’t make it back to shore due to wild waves and strong currents.
(Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.)