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Atlantic City evacuating as storm nears, casinos shut their doors

Atlantic City has closed its casinos, other businesses and neighborhoods today in advance of the tidal surges and 60 mph winds expected from the storm driven by Hurricane Sandy.

Gov. Chris Christie’s mandatory evacuation order issued Saturday means all gambling operations ceased by 3 p.m. and casino-hotels closed by 4 p.m.

City residents were boarding buses today at the Sovereign Avenue School and were being moved to the city's convention center before moving taken to inland shelters.

They were being transported to the various shelters on the mainland, according to officials.

Currently, officials are discussing ways to efficiently process the residents and let them reach the shelters as soon as possible.

"We waited out in the rain (at Sovreign Avenue School) for almost 30 minutes, but other people were there for longer," said 13-year-old Michelle Gonzalez.

Standing in line to be processed at the center, Gonzalez and her family are packed for about four days, in case the storm lasts that long.

"They took my name, address and a phone number. They told me I'm going to Pleasantville High School," said 66-year-old Marlene Glasco.

Pushing a cart with days worth of food and clothing, along with hygiene products, Glasco left her family in their apartment in the city.

"They didn't want to come. They stayed," Glasco said.

The required evacuation of Absecon Island was the second in history. The first was prompted by Tropical Storm Irene in August 2011.

“It’s very prudent for (residents) to heed this advice and get out of the city if you can,” Mayor Lorenzo Langford said. “Three feet, four feet of water in the city will disable a lot of our vehicles, and we won’t be able to respond, even if we want to. In some cases, it could prove to be physically impossible to get to you, depending on what happens. So we want our residents to take every precaution to get out of town and, if they can’t or, for whatever reason, they won’t, at least go to a shelter located in the city.”

Law-enforcement officials will blockade roads into Atlantic City starting at 4 p.m. Traffic within and off the island will be shut down once sustained winds reach 40 miles per hour, likely about 10 p.m., and remain closed until Wednesday, said Tom Foley, director of the city’s Office of Emergency Management.

“We have a tendency to become complacent,” city Public Safety Director Will Glass said, referring to longtime residents who’ve survived past intense storms. “This is different. When we ask you to be prepared, you have today, and some of tomorrow. It’s not that much time. … The warnings, heed them.”

Officials urged people to comply with the evacuation order. Once the storm reaches a certain intensity, public safety personnel might be unable to reach those who have not left, Foley said.

Foley, Langford and Glass were among more than two dozen residents, journalists and city and state officials at a news conference Saturday afternoon at City Hall.

About a mile downtown at The Walk Outlets, 35-year-old Matt Carter and two of his friends were debating how to spend their last evening in town before evacuating along with the rest of the city’s residents and tourists Sunday.

The three men traveled from Toronto, with plans to stay through Monday at Trump Plaza Hotel and Casino. Upon checking in Friday, they were alerted that an evacuation of the city was possible. And on Saturday morning, they found a letter under their hotel room door stating they had to check out by 11 a.m. Sunday.

“This was one of our best planned weekends ever,” Carter said. “We never plan anything that well, but this time, we pulled it off and thought we had it buttoned down pretty well. But now those plans are screwed.”

Their airline, however, did waive the fee to switch their flight due to the storm, he said.

Trump Entertainment Resorts Inc. will clear the Plaza and Trump Taj Mahal Casino Resort by 2 p.m., according to the company’s Facebook page.

“The property will then be closed in all areas until we receive word from the governor to reopen,” the post states.

That didn’t stop the company from making one final push for last-minute business.

“We are open for business now until 2 p.m. tomorrow. Lots going on tonight, so come out and have some fun!” the post states.

Carter and his friends intend to do so, starting with a Halloween masquerade party at the Plaza, after which they said they would check out DJ Paul van Dyk’s show at Mixx at Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa. Their goal is to be on the road to Philadelphia International Airport by 10 a.m. Sunday.

More details on the casino closings were unavailable Saturday afternoon from the state Division of Gaming Enforcement, Atlantic City Tourism District Commander Tom Gilbert said.

City officials want residents without offshore shelter or transportation to report to local elementary schools today.

The Atlantic City Jitney Association will transport people living in buildings managed by the Atlantic City Housing Authority.

From there, buses will take people to the Atlantic City Convention Center, where designated public safety and emergency management personnel will record their vital information and destination shelter inland.

About 9,000 of the resort’s nearly 40,000 residents were bused to shelters outside the resort during Tropical Storm Irene Aug. 26 through 28. Some residents were taken to shelters as far away as Newark. After Irene blew past and the city reopened, some people complained about how officials handled the evacuation.

“Last year, our residents were on buses for hours, and taken to shelters all over the state,” Foley said. “That was unacceptable, and won’t happen again.”

The city can accommodate 3,000 people among its own shelter sites at the All Wars Memorial Building, Uptown Complex, Atlantic City High School and Martin Luther King Jr., New York Avenue and Sovereign Avenue schools. Those will open at noon Sunday, Foley said.

Residents also can store their cars on high ground for free at The Wave parking garage at Mississippi and Arctic avenues starting at 4 p.m. Sunday, he said.

Staff Writer Jennifer Bogdan contributed to this report.

Contact Emily Previti:

609-272-7221

EPreviti@pressofac.com

Follow @emily_previti on Twitter

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