Atlantic City takes stock of storm damage

October 30, 2012

Those who stayed behind in Atlantic City to ride out Hurricane Sandy emerged from waterlogged homes and hiding places a little after 10 a.m. Tuesday to find the largest crowds jostling for position in front of the 24/7 Food Market.

The line was much shorter at the convenience store just a few blocks down the street. But the 24/7 Food Market had a special appeal to the impoverished, bargain-conscious shoppers who were left in the city in the wake of the massive hurricane.

“They don’t have loosies at the other place,” said Tiffani Carrillo, 36, referring to cigarettes sold loose or out of the pack.

The going price was two cigarettes for $1. As the line grew to about 30 people, the store posted a guard at the front door to hold down crowding inside the store and to collect money from those who just wanted a couple of smokes.

“Let me in, let me in,” called a woman at the front of the line.

The waist-high floodwaters that had surged throughout Atlantic City on Monday night had receded, leaving mostly passable and mostly empty streets. There were scattered garbage cans, downed tree limbs, toppled cement tree planters, and awnings ripped from their storefronts. Most of the city’s big casinos and high-rises suffered little to no damage. One section of the famed boardwalk was destroyed, but most of it was intact, and on Tuesday, as white foam from the roiling Atlantic Ocean sprayed across it, the only people around were a few store owners who had come to check on their shops, some wave watchers and a few homeless men.

The worst damage was in the poorest areas of the city, where water had flooded many first-floor homes and apartments. Even in these relatively hard-hit neighborhoods, the shelters drew only sparse numbers. City officials estimated that only about 275 people rode out the storm in city shelters of last resort.

“We came through this thing relatively unscathed,” Atlantic City Mayor Lorenzo Langford (D) told reporters. “I expect within a month from now Sandy will just be a memory.”

Langford spent much of Tuesday firing back in a news conference and on NBC’s “Today” show at New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R), who had angrily accused him of endangering Atlantic City residents by setting up the little-used shelters in the city rather than evacuating people.

“At a time such as this when people are at their wit’s end . . . for the governor to inject politics into this with no basis is reprehensible,” Langford said.

Most of the shelters were by that point locked and empty. At the New York Avenue School, which served an impoverished neighborhood hard hit by the storm, the doors were bolted shut. A garbage can full of half-eaten food was toppled on the sidewalk. A sign in the school’s front window pleaded with parents: “Please teach your children that JAIL is the worst of the four letter words.”

Nearby, residents were sweeping water and sand from flooded first-floor apartments.

“I’ve seen it much, much worse,” said Dana London, a retired casino worker who balanced on a cane and stared out at the waves. She had put on fresh lipstick and eye shadow before she ventured out from her nearby apartment to take in the ocean view. “Praise the Lord, it is beautiful,” she said.

At Lucky Lou’s Tattoos on the boardwalk, Louis Cordi, the 55-year-old owner, said he hoped that his shop, which does a heavy traffic in roses, butterflies and crosses, could reopen before the end of the week. He rode out the storm in his high-rise apartment less than a quarter-mile from the boardwalk and never lost power, he said. The storm ripped the awnings off of the Subway sandwich shop and Dunkin’ Donuts on the boardwalk but left Cordi’s store undamaged.

“Lucky Lou got lucky again,” he said as he gazed up at the large sign and awning bolted to the front of his building.

A few storefronts from Cordi’s shop, Michael Kodan, 50, had been lucky, as well. The homeless ex-felon has spent the past dozen years, since his release from state prison, hustling change and cigarettes along the boardwalk from tourists. He tried to wait out the storm in the covered driveway of the Bally’s Casino, but the valet parking attendant had told him to leave. So Kodan climbed the casino’s fire escape to the third floor and camped there for the night.

“Bally’s has a good fire escape because it is enclosed,” he said. “It didn’t feel too dangerous.”

He hid from the rain in front of a boarded storefront and pondered the possibilities on a day when most of the city’s restaurants and shelters were shut. He needed to find a water fountain to fill up his water bottles. “I wish it were vodka,” he said.

He also needed to find someplace to eat in a city where the homeless shelters were closed and there seemed to be little demand to house those displaced by the storm. “I guess I am not going to eat,” he said. “I’ll just look for a dry spot to stay.”

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