Police in evacuated Atlantic County towns reported several looting incidents over the course of the last few days during the evacuations from Hurricane Sandy, and in Ventnor, the city may seal off its borders to ensure there aren’t any more.
In Atlantic City, there were six arrests between Sunday and Tuesday, Capt. Frank Brennan said. There were also 19 calls or reports of break-ins, he said, though some of those many not have been actual looting incidents or burglaries.
“Some calls may end up being a business owner trying to get back into their own location,” Brennan said. An assessment of the calls was still being made.
Several more incidents have been reported since Tuesday, he said.
Ventnor police Chief Michael Miller said there were several looting incidents on Monday night, the night the storm hit.
One was at La Universal market at Lafayette and Monmouth, where the owner’s sister, Rosibel Alecea, said looters broke the glass door and gained access, but they apparently only took cigarettes.
“I don’t know if anything else is missing,” Alecea said. “There’s a big mess all over the floor. But when we looked for the cigarettes, thinking hopefully no one stole them, we didn’t find them. Somebody broke in.”
The shattered remnants of the door were outside by the trash.
Miller also said that an attempt was made at a jewelry store and liquor store on the 6500 block of Ventnor Avenue, but the would-be looters were scared off by police.
The Nashville Market also had an incident of looters entering through a door or window.
Miller added that there were several burglaries of homes, but he did not state their locations.
Ventnor Commissioner Frank Sarno said concerns over the sewage system may cause the city to not be ready to accept residents even if access to the island is allowed and electricity restored.
“The amount of water we’ve got from flooding filled the sewage system up,” Sarno said. “Basically, even if people start using their toilets, it could start overflowing into the streets, and then we’ll have a real mess to deal with.”
A 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. curfew is still in place, Sarno said, and since that situation may continue even if Atlantic City and Margate begin allowing residents back, “it is possible that Ventnor is going to be setting up blockades at the perimeter of town, so people aren’t entering town who aren’t supposed to.”
In Margate, damage at the rear entrance to the CVS at Ventnor and Washington avenues that left merchandise strewn through and behind the store was “not a looting incident,” Margate mayor Mike Becker said.
Plywood was pulled back from the entrance and a glass door leading from the vestibule to the store was shattered. Items were strewn both in the store and pushed up against the store in the parking lot as if they had washed up there.
CVS employees had just arrived to assess the damage.
“There was no looting whatsoever,” Becker said. “The storm just washed everything out, and people were sorting through whatever was there. Merchandise floated outside.”
Resident Joel Frankel, who stayed during the storm, said that the water was so high “it pushed through the barricades and plywood. Stuff was floating around and people went and took stuff.”
In Pleasantville, Capt. Rocky Melendez said that the police would patrol some of the most “devastated” areas, “just in case people go down to steal things from houses or motels or from scrap.”
Melendez also said possible price gouging at motels had been referred to the state Division of Consumer Affairs.
A hotel in Absecon was also reported to have raised its price from $50 per night to $175 per night after the state of emergency was already declared, said Absecon police Chief Jose Ruiz.
The law is that when a state of emergency is declared, a hotelier can only raise prices by 5 percent, meaning the price at that hotel should have been no more than $55, he explained.
The Police Department is actively investigating a list of reported hotels and motels that have been price gouging, Ruiz said.
Staff writer Anjalee Khemlani contributed to this report.
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