New Jersey Governor Chris Christie (USA Today/AP)
ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. -- Mega storm Sandy cut off Atlantic City and other barrier island communities Monday. Many residents who stayed put rather than evacuating were stranded. This infuriated New Jersey's governor, who said their fate was the responsibility of elected officials who told them to shelter in the city.
At a Monday night news conference, Gov. Chris Christie gave a strong rebuke to Atlantic City Mayor Lorenzo Langford for telling residents to shelter on the barrier island rather than move inland. "For whatever reason, Mayor Langford urged people to stay in shelters in the city, despite my admonition to evacuate," he said. With roads flooded and in the darkness Christie said he couldn't "in good conscience" send in rescue workers.
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Christie said there were many people sheltering in their homes and in city shelters in Atlantic City, including one "literally a block away from the bay, in a school which is now flooded completely."
He said their fate was now the responsibility of the elected officials who had urged them to stay.
"If you're still able to hear me," he told them "you need to hunker down and get to the highest point possible in the dwelling you're in. We will not be able to come to help you until daylight tomorrow. Please try to hunker down and stay safe until then."
Christie, a Republican, called Democrat Langford, whom he has criticized in the past, "a rogue mayor" who's "impossible to work with." The mayor didn't return messages from the Associated Press seeking comment.
The storm on Monday washed away an old section of the world-famous Atlantic City Boardwalk and left most of the city's emptied-out streets under water. All 12 casinos in the city were closed, and some 30,000 people were under orders to evacuate.
Authorities evacuated residents and visitors from a wide swath of coast reaching all the way to the bottom of New Jersey. Schools took the day off, and the local airport remained open but abandoned.
Statewide shelters were operating at only about one-third of capacity Monday evening. Christie said state and local shelters had room for about 6,300 people, but that only about 2,260 had sought shelter. "I expect that to go up as this progresses," shelter director Duncan Wiedman said.
Shelters in Philadelphia were also starting to fill on Monday.
"They gave us a cot and a blanket and some stuff to wash up with, said Lamont Smith, 27, who was glad to take shelter at West Philadelphia High School after the roof where he was staying began leaking and the basement started filling with water. "And the food is good."