Atlantic City’s multibillion-dollar casino industry and almost 40,000 residents are waiting to hear when the resort will reopen, three days after a mandatory storm evacuation shut down the city.
“When authorities tell us it’s safe, we’ll do our best … to reunite (people) to their homes,” Mayor Lorenzo Langford said during a press conference Tuesday.
The briefing started late and was interrupted during its midway point to allow Langford to participate in a conference call with President Barack Obama.
Beach erosion and damage to the Boardwalk, casinos and other businesses were minimal. One elderly woman died during the evacuation of what authorities described as event-related stress. Her name was unavailable.
Police reported making six burglary arrests since Sunday's mandatory evacuation.
“For the most part, we came through this thing relatively unscathed,” Langford said. “I think we need to be thankful and appreciate that this storm could be (have been) much worse.”
The timing depends on when roads reopen – a state decision – and when utility crews restore electricity.
Outages were widespread in the wake of the storm, which originated as Hurricane Sandy and was declared a northeaster when it made landfall 5 miles south of Atlantic City at 8 p.m. Monday. Flooding as deep as 8 feet and 85 mph wind resulted from the weather system.
Despite those conditions, 3.75 miles of oceanfront Boardwalk stood strong on Tuesday. Officials attributed its survival to dune and beach replenishment projects.
Those sand barriers, however, are not in place along the Absecon Inlet at the northeast tip of the island, leaving the Boardwalk there exposed to the city’s most intense weather patterns.
City officials were in the process of hiring a contractor to tear down the broken, sagging, increasingly inaccessible 2,000-foot stretch of Boardwalk before Sandy arrived. But she finished the job with wind that splintered the dilapidated boards, floods that carried them as far three-quarters of a mile inland, and waves that washed others out to sea.
Ultimately, that will expedite and cuts costs for that project, City Engineer William England said.
Structural damage appeared minimal to casinos and other storefronts, many of them still covered with plywood Tuesday.
Yet hanging wires, uprooted trees, overturned utility boxes and twisted, broken traffic lights remained a common sight throughout the resort. Sand, leaves and other debris accumulated in mounds in the middle of streets citywide.
Public works crews started cleaning up early Tuesday, when Atlantic City Electric workers started tackling the electricity restoration needed before city officials say they’ll allow access to the resort again.
During briefings before the storm, officials said they expected to reopen the city at some point Wednesday. That was revised to Thursday once wind, rain and tides picked up with the approach Monday afternoon of the storm.
Once residents start to return, the most significant toll of the storm will be made apparent as they find their houses water-logged from flooding. The risk is greatest in low-lying neighborhoods such as Chelsea Heights and Venice Park, where Mayor Langford lives. Langford said Tuesday about 6 inches of standing water remained in his home.
Despite those conditions, city police and firefighters never stopped responding to calls, Langford said. Front-end loaders were deployed, along with five-ton trucks brought in by the National Guard, to help them navigate floodwaters.
A mandatory evacuation of the barrier islands and shutdown of Atlantic City casinos took effect 4 p.m. Sunday, more than 24 hours before Sandy’s landfall in Longport, about five miles south of Atlantic City.
Not everyone left, however.
Matt Rothenberger, 28, and Diane Field, 24, stayed put with their two children at their apartment in Buzby Village in the Chelsea Heights section, mainly because Field, a dispatcher for the city’s communications division, had to go to work.
Their front door opens onto the bay, but water never made it inside their home, they said.
Their primary concern? Electricity.
“We’ve been without it since, like, 2 o’clock on Monday (afternoon)”, Rothenberger said. “No TV, no internet, so my mom’s been updating us (on storm information).”