Atlantic County’s rural communities were some of the areas hardest hit by Saturday morning’s thunderstorm, and they will likely be the last to regain power later this week.
Toppled trees still lay scattered across properties, sitting on top of cars and leaning against utility wires Monday in Estell Manor, where all homeowners have private wells that require electricity to supply running water.
Residents have relied for days on supplies of bottled water and bags of ice from shelters. Some scooped water from swimming pools to flush toilets, and those with gas-powered generators invited neighbors in to take showers.
“We have to fend for ourselves,” said Charles Ellenbart, deputy emergency management coordinator in Estell Manor. “That’s the bottom line.”
Locals said that’s a reality they experience regularly, whether it’s a lack of reliable cellphone service or waiting days for streets to be cleared after snowstorms, but Saturday’s storm brought devastation few had ever seen.
“Our whole town’s a disaster,” said Ellenbart, who was managing Estell Manor’s shelter at City Hall on Monday.
Cleanups and damage assessments in these areas may take weeks. For now, many residents are simply trying to make it through the heatwave until their power is restored and deal with those issues later.
Rich Lanzetti was one of several people to pick up ice and bottled water at Estell Manor’s shelter Monday. He also had to pick up a bucket of water to hydrate his three horses.
Lanzetti, like nearly everyone in the city, had downed trees all around his property, as well as a drooping electrical line that nearly blocked his driveway. He said he could not start clearing the trees from his property until the heat subsides.
“I’m 78; I can’t be doing that no more,” he said. “I just got to wait until this temperature goes down, and then I’ll attempt it.”
Daniel and Maureen Mawhinney also stopped at the shelter to pick up water and ice Monday. They were contemplating whether to drive to Virginia or to Tuckerton to stay with family until their power is restored, knowing it may be a while.
“You get used to living in Estell Manor,” Maureen Mawhinney said.
The generator at the Estell Manor shelter broke Monday, and officials relocated the operation to the nearby Dorothy Volunteer Fire Company in Weymouth Township, where another shelter and cooling center was up and running.
Dorothy Fire Chief Robert Gibney said he had been there since early Saturday. The shelter has been up 24 hours, and he estimated they had already gone through $3,000 worth of propane to keep their generators going.
Inside the center Monday were several senior citizens who came to escape the escalating heat in their homes. The fire company’s Ladies Auxiliary cooked people meals, in some instances using food people brought from their own refrigerators because it would spoil otherwise.
“We’re going to start a poker game soon,” said Catherine Ratay, of Weymouth Township, as she sat at a table inside the fire hall.
Gibney said most people were understanding of the situation, accepting that it may be days before they return to normalcy and thankful for the supplies provided by the county and the Red Cross.
But some people were clearly frustrated by the situation. Damian Sakellion, owner of the Pufferbelly Station restaurant on Tuckahoe Road, said he has lost an untold amount of money in ruined food and from not being able to open for business.
“Are these people’s lives more important than ours?” he said, referring to the more populated centers of Atlantic County that had already had power restored.
Gibney tried to calm him down and explain that hundreds of extra crews were coming in from outside the area to assist.
“I’m just saying we’re doing the best we can,” Gibney said.
“But that’s not enough,” Sakellion answered.
People in Estell Manor and Weymouth were far from the only ones fearful Monday that they might not see power restored for days.
In the afternoon, a long line of cars formed behind the Hamilton Mall as more people picked up water and ice. Crews from Atlantic County’s and Camden County’s offices of emergency management arrived about 2 p.m. to distribute the supplies.
One of the first vehicles in line was driven by John Snider, of Egg Harbor Township, who said he relies on well water and has had to shower at a friend’s house without running water at his own.
He said he had heard his power may be restored Wednesday.
“It depends on who you talk to,” he said.
William McFarland, also of Egg Harbor Township, was near the front of the line. A member of the Farmington Volunteer Fire Company, he spent the past two days helping with the cleanup, but he said his own home still lacked power.
“Thank God my phone has Facebook,” he said, since that’s how he found out about the distribution center.
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Cooling stations and distribution centers scheduled to be open Tuesday
Dorothy Volunteer Fire Company, 70 Tuckahoe Road, Weymouth Township. Open 24 hours.
Margate Terrace, 610 N. Fredricksburg Avenue. Open 24 hours.
Northfield City Hall, 1600 Shore Road. Open 24 hours.
Hamilton Mall, Hamilton Township. Ice and water being distributed in parking lot behind mall from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.