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Atlantic City flooding has mostly receded, but damage is done

Published: Wednesday, Oct. 31, 2012 8:43 a.m. CDT

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(MCT) — ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. — When the floodwaters crested the curb on Atlantic Avenue on Monday night, James von Fundenberg grabbed his cat, Marcala; locked the doors of J K & Gus’s Auto Repairs, where he had spent the previous three nights watching and waiting; and hightailed it across the street to a friend’s house.

“I got across the street, looked behind me, and the Boardwalk was floating down the street,” he said Tuesday morning.

When he returned the next morning to his workplace of 22 years — to help the eponymous Gus assess the damage — he found the garage’s facade warped, glass shattered in the front lot, and destruction up and down the north end of the street.

Von Fundenberg, 68, who has spent his life in Atlantic City, remembers weathering the storm of 1962. That devastating storm, he said, didn’t even come close to what Sandy wrought.

“Sixty-two was like a little boy compared to this,” he said, laughing. “Sandy was a man, and he wasn’t fooling around.”

Those who decided to stay in Atlantic City against stringent warnings from Gov. Chris Christie as Sandy lashed the Jersey Shore awoke Tuesday to find that Monday night’s extensive flooding had mostly receded — and that many neighborhoods on higher ground had suffered minimal damage.

But in the city’s low-lying areas, the water that had crept up curbs, flooded basements and forced evacuees out of emergency shelters left extensive damage.

Near the inlet at the north side of the city, an older, damaged section of the Boardwalk — already slated for demolition — collapsed amid heavy rain and high winds Monday, blocking streets and, in one instance, slamming straight into a woman’s garage. On Tuesday morning near the inlet, garage doors lay in the streets. Broken windows gaped. Firefighters cordoned off a downed electric pole and checked a nearby building for gas leaks.

Reports of crime saw a small spike, too, with police arresting six on burglary charges during the storm and fielding 19 calls about break-ins in about 36 hours. Rescue workers removed 215 people from their homes over about 48 hours. The National Guard rolled in with five-ton trucks Monday and even then found some streets impassable. At the height of the storm, 85 percent of the city was underwater, with flooding up to 8 feet in some places.

The dozen Atlantic City casinos, shuttered since Sunday afternoon, sustained little physical damage from the storm, but it could take another day or two to reopen them because of infrastructure damage in and around them, said the head of the Casino Association of New Jersey.

“No decision has yet been made since there is still a state of emergency, a state evacuation order and a curfew in place,” Tony Rodio, president of the association, said Tuesday.

Atlantic City is still enforcing a travel ban and a curfew from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. The Atlantic City Expressway and Garden State Parkway, both of which had closed Sunday, were reopened Tuesday afternoon.

At a news conference Tuesday, city officials shrugged off criticism from Christie, who berated Mayor Lorenzo Langford before the storm, saying he hadn’t done enough to persuade residents to leave the city. Langford fired back at a news conference Tuesday, saying that 30,000 of the city’s 39,500 residents had evacuated on their own, and that an additional 2,600 were bused to emergency shelters outside the city. He called Christie’s comments “reprehensible.”

City officials said it was too soon to estimate property damage, although Langford said damage in New Jersey could reach tens of billions of dollars. School board representatives sent out robo-calls to families, saying they hoped to begin classes again on Thursday, although City Councilman Marty Small said he wasn’t sure when authorities would let evacuated residents back onto the island.

Officials reported one storm-related death — a senior citizen who had a heart attack on a bus leaving the city — but Langford said that while one death was “one too many,” he was grateful the damage was not as extensive as officials feared.

“This storm could have been a lot worse,” he said. “We did a pretty good job getting people to heed the clarion call and flee to higher ground.”

On Tuesday, walking through heavy winds past debris, sand and hordes of reporters, some residents who stayed said they felt they had dodged a bullet.

“We had 3 feet of water in the garage, but we’re on the third floor, so we were fine,” said Keith Groff, 33, who lives several blocks from what he called “ground zero” — the inlet neighborhoods where the Boardwalk collapsed. “But now my wife’s mad at me. She’s, like, ‘We’re never doing this again.’ I was, like, ‘I agree.’”

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(Inquirer staff writer Suzette Parmley contributed to this article.)

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