John Jenkins Jr. went to his Pleasantville plumbing business to find one of many disaster scenes in South Jersey following Saturday’s destructive thunderstorms.
The storms bent the Franklin Avenue shop’s 90-foot-tall radio tower into power lines, burning a heavy steel cable in two like it was a shoelace and shorting out cooling systems in the store, which in turn prompted a water deluge.
“It’s been a mess,” Jenkins said.
The storms took about a half-hour to wreak their havoc, but the cleanup is expected to take days, with spots in Atlantic and Cumberland counties among the worst hit, officials said.
Jenkins said his tower had withstood countless coastal storms since the 1960s, when it was built as a way to reach drivers and repairmen in a time before cellphones.
But Saturday’s storms proved stronger than the tower. He spent much of the day tending to the damage.
To help cope with the lack of electricity, Atlantic County officials set up cooling and community feeding sites in Egg Harbor Township, Galloway Township and Northfield.
Carla Gay-Brown, 37, of Egg Harbor Township, who, along with her children, Tajah and Jabril, were among those who went to the Northfield feeding site, said the storm flooded her basement, where her kids were sleeping at the time.
“The kids woke up floating on air mattresses,” she said.
Marcia Moser, 50 of Northfield, and Mary Petrocelli, 62, of Linwood, said the storm was nothing like any others they had experienced.
“It sounded like a freight train running through the house,” Moser said.
Petrocelli said the lightning and wind reminded her of tornados she has experienced.
“This almost was as worse,” she said.
Lanae Jackson, 23, of Buena, said downed trees lined her community and left her without power. With no television to entertain her children, who woke up expecting to watch their favorite shows, Jackson took her family to Atlantic City to sit on the beach and forget their power woes for a time.
“We’ll see when we get home tonight,” she said of her electrical situation, although Atlantic City Electric officials have said outages may take days to repair.
Atlantic City did experience some damage, such as lifeguard boats and stands that were blown into the water and across the beach, as well as downed trees, lightposts and wires blocking roadways.
At one point during the middle of the storm, Brian Gallagher, the beach supervisor at The Chelsea hotel, said he saw a large piece of sheet metal fall from the parking garage at Tropicana Casino and Resort.
“It looked like somebody threw a deck of cards,” Gallagher said.
While some guests reported feeling the building shake and the windows bow, the building sustained no damage, he said.
Visiting from Scotch Plains in Union County, Sue Librandy, who works in the meat department at a supermarket, said she was a little scared during her overnight stay at the Atlantic Club Casino Hotel as the winds howled.
“I thought it was going to blow through the windows,” she said.
Six Atlantic City Beach Patrol boats were damaged as a result of the storm and two washed out to sea, although one was eventually recovered. Three lifeguard stands were destroyed as the wind blew them across the sand, Beach Patrol Chief Rod Aluise said.
Hurricane-force winds snapped utility poles in half and uprooted large trees that in some cases were “hundreds of years old” and caused major property damage, said Tom Foley, the city’s director of emergency management.
The storm also destroyed trailers remaining on Bader Field from Metallica’s Orion Music + More festival last weekend.
No injuries were reported to city officials, but one house was evacuated because a tree fell into it.
The six residents living at the home on Aberdeen Place between Atlantic and Ventnor avenues have been relocated to the Police Athletic League until the tree is cut away from the structure, he said.
But after the winds died down and the storm passed, there appeared to be less damage in Atlantic City than in other parts of the county.
By the afternoon, most of the traffic signals were working, some power had been restored and the beach debris had all been picked up.
“It doesn’t look bad to me,” said Joel Arvelo, 40, of Jersey City, Hudson County, who went to Atlantic City to spend the weekend on beach and was surprised to see power was out in his motel. “It was kind of shocking.”
All of the casino hotels had power, and electricity was restored in the city’s Tourism District, officials said.
Atlantic City lifeguards said they planned to change the way they store boats and stands overnight as a precaution in light of reports that similar conditions could arise, Aluise said.
Ultimately, three boats and three stands had to be replaced with spares the Beach Patrol keeps on hand, Aluise said. Repairs should restore the other three boats, but more spares are being used instead for now, he said.
To avoid more damage from potential storms overnight, lifeguards laid stands on the sand and secured boats behind the high water line before leaving the beach Saturday evening.
Staff Writer Michael Miller contributed to this report.
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