Kristopher Irizarry-Hoeksema wanted to get home so badly Friday that he walked the last part of the trip.
He figured it took him and his dog, Birdy, about an hour to travel the three miles from Atlantic City High School to Starbucks at The Walk Outlets on foot.
The 35-year-old hadn’t showered in almost a week, but he hit Starbucks at The Walk Outlets before doing anything else.
“You just sort of want to see how things are. You intersect with people here. You want to come and see that the places you go are still sort of intact,” Irizarry-Hoeksema said.
Irizarry-Hoeksema, who suffers from seizures and multiple sclerosis, left his house Sunday night to refill his prescriptions as a precaution in advance of Hurricane Sandy. But due to the approaching storm and 4 p.m. evacuation deadline, the staff at AtlantiCare Regional Medical Center, Mainland Campus in Galloway Township would not allow him to return to his second-floor apartment on Florida Avenue in Atlantic City.
He is among the more than 2,000 people who rode out the storm at offshore shelters. In all, about 32,000 people complied with orders to evacuate the resort by 4 p.m. Sunday in advance of Sandy. On Friday, they began to return as business resumed in Atlantic City.
Atlantic City Convention and Visitors Authority President Jeffrey Vasser said the New Jersey Education Association on Thursday announcing it would cancel its conference next week opened up the option of using the center for evacuees who could not yet return home.
He said the Atlantic County Office of Emergency Management and the Red Cross are coordinating the effort. He said a few hundred cots have been set up in the exhibit hall, but as many as 1,000 people could be accommodated if necessary. Mobile shower units are also being brought in and arrangements are being made for meals.
“It’s a way to get residents back into the city and close to home, if not home yet,” Vasser said. “We are happy to help.”
A few hundred evacuees, most from the Atlantic City area, were originally taken to Red Cross shelters at the Pleasantville High School and Middle School and Buena Regional High School and Middle School. Many have been there since Sunday. Atlantic City High School also became a makeshift shelter for about 200 city residents.
But the schools cannot open while the evacuees are living there, so alternative sites were sought.
Pleasantville superintendent Garnell Bailey said while it was an inconvenience to not be able to open, they were happy to help evacuees any way they could.
“It really was a blessing,” she said. “People from the community, teachers, brought in clothing and games for the children. It was unbelievable how people came out to help.”
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