Electronic equipment shattered against metal as Shawn Mohammad and half a dozen other men hurled the expensive objects into trash bins in the back of Masjid Muhammad Tuesday morning.
Mohammad, 51, and the others didn’t use the care typical of handling such equipment because it was already ruined by the 4-feet-deep flooding that’s left South Jersey’s oldest Islamic institution without a headquarters. At least, temporarily.
Hurricane Sandy cut its widest, most intense path of destruction along barrier islands north of Atlantic City. But flooding has devastated pockets of the resort and other towns on Absecon Island, including the Chelsea Heights section of Atlantic City where the mosque is located.
The storm kept Mohammad out of his apartment in Stanley Holmes Village in the city’s Uptown section until last weekend.
With his two children in tow, Mohammad had been bouncing between friends and relatives’ houses until his building reopened overnight Friday.
“But everything’s all right. We’re alive, and that’s what’s most important. This is all replaceable,” Mohammad said of the ruins around him. “We’re not replaceable.”
Mohammad spoke as he cleaned and buffed floor tiles in preparation of tearing them up with Gregory Saleem, who’s been coordinating the crews of Masjid Muhammad members who volunteer their time on their lunch hours cleaning the mosque.
The pair worked in the middle of the 6,000-square-feet section of the building where community groups such as Stop the Violence held meetings.
Walls around them were stripped of paneling and drywall as high as six feet up, revealing black mold starting to grow.
Masjid Muhammed’s main office and kitchen were there, as were its stores of donated food and clothing.
Flooding ruined all of it: the canned goods, clothes, computers, printers, phones, furniture, utensils, refrigerator, freezer, oven, stovetop.
Kaleem Shabazz, the mosque’s president, doesn’t include replacing all of that in his ballpark $75,000 cost to clean, disinfect and sanitize the place to the point that the public can use it again.
“If we had to (pay) people to clean, we couldn’t afford it,” Shabazz said. “These gentlemen volunteering – they’re lifesavers.”
When they’re not working or helping repair the mosque, Shabazz, Saleem, Mohammad and others are grappling with storm damage to their own homes.
Although Mohammad and his children went back to their apartment last weekend, they returned to sporadic electricity and the strong smell lingering from the diesel fuel leak that kept about 20 percent of the apartment complex’s 2,500 residents out for a week after Atlantic City’s evacuation orders were lifted Nov. 2.
Shabazz needs to replace his furnace, washer and dryer, as well as his television. His rec room is ruined and its walls, like those in the mosque, have been stripped of drywall and paneling. Workers from the American Red Cross and Federal Emergency Management Agency have been extremely helpful, he said — but his Venice Park home remains uninhabitable.
“With the cleanup, it’s bad,” Shabazz said of the chemicals and bacteria in the floodwater. “Normally, we wear face masks and protective gloves. The bay met the ocean, so you had oil, and sewage. It’s not pleasant.”
About 3,500 feet of sludge-soaked carpeting was snarled in a pile in the back Masjid Muhammad on Tuesday morning. Rain fell on on that jumble and similar heaps of couches, carpeting, furniture, pillows, all over Chelsea Heights, Lower Chelsea and Chelsea.
For now, the mosque will hold Friday prayer services in the community center of the Buzby Village apartment complex about a half mile away.
Shabazz said Masjid Muhammad will rebuild to offer its full umbrella of services again. It has to because, he said, the community still needs food, clothing, meeting spaces and spiritual guidance – now more than ever.
“We want to normalize as soon as possible,” he said.
Contact Emily Previti:
Follow Emily Previti on Twitter @emily_previti