CAPE MAY - As the weather deteriorated Sunday, Vince Stewart and Marlene Barikan were busy boarding up Stewart’s business on the Washington Street Mall, the one with the ironic name Wish You Were Here.
While thousands of barrier island and waterfront residents have heeded orders to evacuate, Sunday, Barikan and others are planning to stay.
Barikan said she’s staying because she believes there’s no way to escape the storm’s path.
“You basically have to get to California to find someplace safe,” Barikan said.
Cindy Huf and Nikhe Jaudon were also planning to stick it out in Cape May, which while not a barrier island was still under orders to evacuate.
Huf said she lives on the high side of town, and with 14 feet above sea level, thinks she’ll be fine.
“And since the storm is so big, there’s nowhere else to go. ... We’ve got puzzles, we’re getting drinks. And we’re not going to be on the Internet for once.”
At the county Emergency Management headquarters in Cape May Court House, Cape May County Freeholder Director Gerald Thornton said that this year’s evacuation — of only islands and bay towns, unlike the countywide evacuation during Hurricane Irene last year — was going much smoother than in 2011.
The voluntary evacuation for those locations became mandatory at 8 a.m. Sunday, with roads into the islands closed as of 4 p.m.
“We just had a conference call with the governor’s office and some cabinet officials,” Thornton said. “The key points are for barrier islands, we would like to see all of them evacuated as much as possible. For the mainland, most people should stay indoors and remain safe, and they should have enough food and water and medicine in preparation for the storms.”
There are three designated shelters, with Cape Island and Wildwoods residents to go to the Woodbine Developmental Center, Ocean City, Strathmere and Sea Isle residents to the Upper Township Middle School and Elementary School. Avalon and Stone Harbor sent its residents to a shelter in Cumberland County.
Pet shelters will be available in Upper and Lower townships, with the main animal shelter at the Cape May County Municipal Airport in Lower Township and operated by the Lower Township police.
“We stress that you should call your local Office of Emergency Management directors, because in case of overflow you will be directed where to go if need be,” said Cape May County spokeswoman Lenora Boninfantecq. “And if you leave home, let someone know where you’re going to be.”
Thornton stressed the potential damaging effects of the storm.
“We are anticipating 5 to 10 inches of rain, and that’s significant if it’s 10 inches, because it will flood a lot of roadways,” Thornton said. “It will also soften the ground, so when individual gusts are strong, the trees will come down and knock electricity out. Winds will be coming out of the north-northeast at 35 to 45 mph beginning Monday, with gusts of 55 to 60 mph. Along the coast, there will be winds of 70 to 75 mph.”
There was already flooding along Susquehannah Avenue in Wildwood, with the George Redding Bridge shut down for a period after the morning high tide, Boninfante said. The bridge later reopened in the afternoon.
“It’s different this time,” Boninfante said in comparison to Irene. “It’s a slow-moving storm, with heavy rain and strong winds for a long period of time.”
“The biggest concern,” Thornton said, “is when electricity goes out, and how long it will stay down.”
For emergency management officials that was the concern. But for some, there were other issues to consider.
On a city beach, several surfers took the opportunity to get in a few waves before the storm truly arrived.
“Oh, he just decided today,” said Mary Rae Cagney of Cape May of her son, Sean, 14. “It’s a lifestyle. They don’t care.”
Steve Stegercq also watched his16-year-old son, also named Sean, surf off what he described as “my beach.”
“I’m the one with the business concessions,” he explained. “Whether it’s two feet or ten feet, they’ll be out there.”
Was he evacuating? It was not even worth asking. The answer was obvious.
“I’m staying right here,” Steger said. “I’ve never left. I wouldn’t leave if it were a category 5.”
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