Atlantic County and Atlantic City appear to be in the midst of a feud over evacuation plans for Hurricane Sandy.
County Emergency Management Director Vince Jones has taken issue with Mayor Lorenzo Langford’s remarks during his State of the City address this week, in which he blamed the county and the state for supposed hypocrisy.
“In preparation for Sandy, state and county emergency management officials still could not tell us where our residents were going,” Langford said in his Wednesday speech before City Council. “We were sent helter-skelter all over the place.
“The sad news is, even now, should there be another urgent need for coastal communities, neither the Christie administration or the county Office of Emergency Management (have) specific, designated shelters for Atlantic City,” Langford continued. “And yet they have the nerve to criticize us.”
In a statement Friday, Jones said, “I cannot let these repeated attacks go unanswered. ... The mayor is either disingenuous or ill-informed.”
Each town is responsible for creating its own evacuation plans, Jones said, as well as locating shelters. Atlantic City, he said, opted out of participating in a survey and a countywide strategic shelter plan designed to identify viable shelters within and outside the county.
“Atlantic City officials requested a meeting with me and my staff to discuss the city’s evacuation and sheltering needs last June, but they all failed to show up,” Jones said. “A subsequent meeting was scheduled one month later, and only one city official attended. It is extremely disappointing for those of us who put ourselves in jeopardy in protecting the lives of others to be accused of shirking our responsibilities when, in reality, it is the actions of Atlantic City’s officials that should be called into question.”
Jones said that prior to the storm’s arrival, he arranged for 80 NJ Transit buses to transport Atlantic City citizens to two out-of-county shelters.
“But city officials chose not to move anyone at that time,” Jones said. “Once the mandatory evacuation order was given, 40 buses were again made available, but only 22 were used to transport 988 evacuees. City officials then directed citizens to their four shelters. It was their preference to keep everyone on the island.
“If it were not for the resources provided by the state and the county, many of the citizens in his town, whom he directed to shelters within the evacuation zone, would not have weathered the storm,” he continued. “It is unimaginable that public officials could direct their citizens, many frail and disabled, as well as young children, to facilities without bathrooms, heat, cots, food or water.”
Jones described Langford’s comment during his address as the latest in a string of public criticisms by the administration reported in The Press of Atlantic City. The newspaper, however, does not have any record of Langford or other city officials criticizing the county for its handling of Sandy or Tropical Storm Irene.
They have expressed concern and outrage over residents being bused to multiple shelters but have not been quoted in The Press as blaming that on the county.
A spokesperson for Langford did not respond to requests for comment Friday.
Staff Writer Emily Previti contributed to this report.
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