Tom Wagner, of Haddonfield, sand bags the garage of the family summer home on Atlantic Avenue, in Ventnor. Area residents prepare for Hurricane Sandy. Sunday October, 28, 2012( Press of Atlantic City/ Danny Drake)

Danny Drake

With Sandy approaching, many remaining Downbeach residents were calm, leisurely obeying or leisurely disregarding Sunday’s mandatory evacuation order.

Dimitri Drakolpoulos, owner of Malelani’s Cafe in Ventnor, said he would stay open until after lunchtime and then board up. At 8 a.m., regulars shuffled in and out, drinking coffee, reading the newspaper and talking about storms.

Tony D’Amato, of Margate, lived in California for 24 years and experienced four earthquakes.

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“This is nothing,” he said.

D’Amato is staying with a friend in Ventnor.

“Where I’m at in Margate, I’m going to be wiped out,” he said, adding milk to his coffee. “I got an apartment. It’s going to be wiped out. I don’t care. Whatever happens, happens. I can’t do anything about it. What am I going to do? Stay there with the rug or something? I can’t do anything.”

A block from the cafe, Scout Clothing and Decor’s windows were boarded up. Scrawled in orange spray paint across plywood was a quote from Bruce Springsteen’s “Fourth of July in Asbury Park (Sandy)”: “Sandy, your fireworks are hailing over Little Eden tonight.”

At AAAA Bike Shop in Ventnor, Mike Wiesen was preparing for the storm. Front windows were covered in green tarp and sandbags were positioned in front of the door. Wiesen was hanging bikes from the ceiling.

“I’m trying to get every single thing off the floor because if we do have water come in, if it’s elevated, I can save myself aggravation dealing with insurance companies. I want to be back in business as soon as I can,” he said.

During Irene, he said, he did the same thing and only lost a computer. Wiesen’s daughter and wife evacuated, but he plans to stay in his home in Ventnor Heights.

At 11th Avenue in Longport, dozens of people gathered to watch the rising tides around the seawall. Giant foam bubbles formed 2-foot high blobs on the dead-end street. Residents took photographs of the waves crashing up against the jetty.

Karen Wargo, of Margate, held her daughter, Eeva, while her son, Brendan, jumped in the foam. The twin 5-year-olds had varying takes on the storm. Eeva called it scary and Brendan called it cool.

“It’s unbelievable. It’s like a heartbeat in there,” Karen Wargo said. “I think this is like once in a lifetime, this storm. Hopefully, it’s once in a lifetime.”

After wave-watching, the family planned to evacuate to Pennsylvania. They didn’t board up the house because supplies were sold out throughout the area.

“We’re going to take our chances, and crossing our fingers,” she said. “Last year, with Irene, we were crazy with that. We moved everything out and then it was like nothing.”

At about 9:30 a.m., residents turned their heads in the direction of the water tower as a siren began to wail.

“Attention, Longport has declared a state of emergency,” a robotic voice said calmly. “Mandatory evacuation has been ordered.”

The message repeated several times as residents continued to watch the waves.

At the Margate Library, the back windows were covered in plywood. Residents gathered at the beach entrance taking pictures of the waves. Some residents used beach sand to fill sandbags for their homes. Most conversations ended with “good luck.”

The Wells Fargo Bank in Margate was completely boarded up with a mound of sandbags at the entrance.

At 10 a.m., roads started to fill up.

A half-hour later, the parking lot was full at the Pathmark in Ventnor Heights as bay water came up to the edge of West End Boulevard. Inside, shoppers bought granola bars, bread and cookies. The self-checkout lane’s “15 items or less” rule was being flagrantly violated, but no one seemed to mind.

In Ventnor, Doug Murphy walked his dogs, Sid and Willie, on the Boardwalk and the beach. He was watching the Harrisburg Inn for its owners, who are on vacation. One guest is staying in the inn through the storm.

“I’m a little nervous with the tide rising there, and one room is kind of low so we’re moving furniture,” he said.

Murphy grew up in Seaside Heights, so he said he’s been dealing with hurricanes all of his life.

Sid and Willie chased each other around the edge of the rising tide. It might be their last long walk for a few days, Murphy said.

“There’s a little fenced-in area out back. We can let them out there,” he said. “If they go out, they may come running back in.”

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