Howard Rosenfeld said he would never leave his home in Margate again after not being allowed back for three days — and not being given a timeline of when he could return.
On Thursday, Gov. Chris Christie rescinded the evacuation order for Margate, Longport and Brigantine. Atlantic City and Ventnor remained under evacuation on the orders of local officials, who continue to prohibit access while public safety and public health concerns are resolved.
While the governor’s decision was welcome, it came only after three days of building anger among residents such as Rosenfeld who were frustrated by their inability to get back to their homes after the storm.
“I will never, ever leave. I don’t care how bad a storm they predict,” the 79-year-old said. “In the future, (Christie) has no chance of getting people to leave the barrier island.”
The towns released from the mandatory evacuation order will continue to enforce locally imposed curfews from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. until further notice.
Mandatory evacuations ordered by the governor in other areas of the state continue to remain in effect, although Christie also rescinded his evacuation orders for Cape May County’s barrier islands.
For Ventnor residents, though, the frustration continued.
Maryanne Brukiewa, a longtime summer resident, just moved to Ventnor full time less than 40 days ago. She said she called the city and was told that access to all cities would be opened at the same time.
When she heard that access had been allowed in other towns, she said she called again and was hung up on.
“At this point, they’re just saying whatever they want to appease people,” Brukiewa said. “I wasn’t even going to stay in Ventnor, I was just going to assess the damage and leave. … I love Ventnor. I made the decision to move down here. I just feel let down.”
Ventnor Mayor Mike Bagnell said the main issue was the sewer system was not pumping at an adequate capacity. So even though drinking water was safe, and 75 percent of the city had power, the ban remained in place.
Bagnell said before the ban was lifted that he was told the state would not allow any entry onto the island if one city remained closed. He could not be reached for comment after the ban was lifted in neighboring Margate.
Ventnor police began putting up barricades at the Margate border within a half-hour of Christie’s 2:30 p.m. declaration. A Ventnor officer told one woman seeking to enter the city, “Ventnor’s closed, ma’am. The entire city is closed.”
For Brigantine, the only way in was Route 30, according to an Atlantic County statement. Despite Christie’s order, South Jersey Transportation Authority spokesman Kevin Rehmann said the authority had no plans to open the Atlantic City Expressway past Exit 5 to the public as of Thursday afternoon.
Margate Mayor Mike Becker said the only way into Margate and Longport would be the Margate Causeway. In each town, residents must show ID to gain access.
Becker and Brigantine Mayor Phil Guenther said owners of second homes must show proof of ownership, and contractors must show proof they are working in the city.
Longport Mayor Nick Russo said a second barricade at the Margate border would restrict entry into the borough to just Longport residents, homeowners and contractors. A third restriction will exist at 22nd Avenue to the western tip of the borough, which saw the most sand on roads.
“As I tried to report to the Governor’s Office, the people that left complied with the (evacuation),” Russo said. “You don’t want them to be punished. They want to get into their homes, open the windows and assess the damage, and they’re very, very anxious.”
Becker, along with many others in Margate, was just as frustrated. Power had been restored by Thursday to five of eight feeder lines, with crews working on two more, most roads were clear and there were no major infrastructure problems.
After being denied by the state Wednesday, Becker sent a fax to Atlantic County on Thursday morning saying the city was prepared and that access would be restricted at all borders.
At Johnny’s Cafe on Ventnor Avenue, hours before the governor rescinded the evacuation order, owner John Liccio was getting angry at the delay.
“If everything goes well and they open the bridge and actually get people in here, like mechanics and plumbers and electricians ...” he said. “That’s the problem. We’re doing everything ourselves. We can’t get anybody over the bridge. If the bridge opens, I could be open Saturday night.”
Joe Nigro, looking at the damage to bayside piers, said they wouldn’t let his daughter into town even though she’s in the National Guard.
Farther up Amherst Avenue, Tomatoe’s owner Karen Sherman said her restaurant got 5 feet of water.
“It’s pretty much destroyed,” Sherman said. “We’re working hard — get open or die trying. ... It would be so helpful if they just let people in. We can’t get anything done. It just gets worse by the hour.”
Some found ways of getting by, however. Steve Ammazzalorso found a way to sneak past the barricades so he could reopen his Sunoco gas station on Ventnor Avenue in Margate today.
“I knew people were running out of gas to use for their generators and wanted to use their cars to charge their cellphones,” he said. ”I wanted to be here for my customers.”
Staff writers Lynda Cohen and Joel Landau contributed to this report.
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