ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. (AP) — Hurricane Sandy caused massive flooding along the state’s shoreline and knocked out power to more than two million homes and businesses before morphing into a still-dangerous hybrid storm just before it made landfall. The storm cut off Atlantic City and other barrier island communities and stranded many residents who stayed put rather than evacuating, infuriating the governor.
At least three deaths in northern New Jersey were linked to the storm. Authorities in Morris County said a man and a woman died after a tree fell on their pickup truck Monday evening in Mendham Township and two children in the pickup were injured. Officials in Hawthorne said a 77-year-old man was killed when a tree crashed into his home.
Even before making landfall at 8 p.m. Monday about 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. Flooding also was reported at PATH train stations in Hoboken and Jersey City.
Wind gusts up to 89 mph were reported in Surf City on Long Beach Island, and nearly 12 inches of rain had fallen in southern New Jersey’s Wildwood Crest.
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.
With the storm closing in, Gov. Chris Christie gave a strong rebuke to the people who chose to stay behind and to Atlantic City Mayor Lorenzo Langford for allowing residents to shelter in schools on the barrier island rather than move inland.
Christie, a Republican, called the Democratic mayor, whom he has criticized in the past, “a rogue mayor” who’s “impossible to work with.” The mayor didn’t return messages seeking comment.
The federal Department of Homeland Security said Secretary Janet Napolitano called the governors of some states and Langford to make sure they had the support they needed. But the department did not say why Langford got a call.
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.
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.
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.
Roads in flood-prone areas around the state were closed.
Officials in Ocean City, one of the washed-out barrier islands, said it was likely that residents would not be allowed back to check on their homes Tuesday.
Power was knocked out to roughly 2.1 million homes and businesses, including Christie’s home in Mendham, far from the storm’s center. His family was being moved to the governor’s mansion in Princeton.
A 129-mile stretch of the Garden State Parkway south of Woodbridge was closed in both directions, and public transportation around the state was shut down until further notice, as were stretches of the New Jersey Turnpike in central and northern New Jersey.
Until the storm sped up and approached hours earlier than expected, it followed nearly exactly the path forecasters expected days earlier.
President Barack Obama signed an emergency declaration for the state on Sunday to allow it to request federal funding and other assistance and expedite repair work.
Don Schweikert, the owner of the Saltwood House, a bed-and-breakfast located on one of the highest spots in Cape May, remained at the property as Sandy made landfall about 30 miles to the northeast.
“It was nerve-racking for a while, before the storm hit,” he said. “Everything was rattling.”
The innkeeper said some water came through the windows of the 1906 house. But 90 minutes after Sandy reached shore, he said: “Everything is great. I don’t see anything wrong, but I won’t see everything until morning.”
“These houses are 106 years old so I guess they can take it,” he said.
New Jersey has not had a direct hit from a hurricane since one in September 1903 made landfall near Atlantic City. It was initially believed that Irene made landfall in August 2011 north of Atlantic City as a hurricane, but that storm was later determined to be a slightly less potent tropical storm when it made landfall.
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