Barely 48 hours after Hurricane Sandy’s departure, shelters in Atlantic City schools were still disorganized, based on complaints within the shelters.
Meanwhile, a designated Red Cross shelter at Buena Regional High School remained prepared, but largely empty.
School districts hosting the shelters, which are still taking in late evacuees in some places, will remain closed to students today and Friday.
“We were lucky, but now the question is how to get these families back into their homes and get the children back in school,” U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez said after a tour of Pleasantville High School on Wednesday during his visit to the region.
Wednesday morning, more than 200 Atlantic City residents were housed at Atlantic City High School’s makeshift shelter, with many brought in since the storm, said Dewane Parker, school security chief for the Atlantic City School District.
Atlantic City evacuees and refugees said the process to get them to the shelter was fraught with confusion and delay, and when they finally arrived at Atlantic City High School, after spending hours on a bus, cold and wet, the shelter was not set up.
Drew Manati, of Atlantic City, said he helped set up cots for the more than 100 evacuees when they arrived after spending hours on a bus, driving through high floodwaters. Manati said there were few, if any, supplies at the high school, and even after dozens of people began arriving, it still took hours for basic supplies such as blankets, bottled water and military meals to arrive.
After being sought out by emergency management officials, Atlantic City Linen Supply was able to donate a variety of supplies to help alleviate the burden, said the company’s vice president, Eric Goldberg.
The company, along with several volunteers, delivered 400 towels, donated by Borgata, to the Pleasantville shelters, he said. In addition, supplies were purchased including juices, water, baby wipes and diapers, formula milk and hand sanitizer, Goldberg said.
“We ran out of bottled water about 7 p.m. (Tuesday) and they brought in more this morning, but you can’t make an MRE without water,” Manati said. Additionally, he said, many of the elderly and chronically ill residents who were in the shelter could not eat the military meal without it making them sick, and some were refusing food.
The city’s drinking water was contaminated during the storm and must be boiled before any consumptive use, but the high school also had no power, so heat and the few lights that were on were powered by generator.
A request by the city was made to the National Guard to provide more generators, which would allow the cafeteria to be utilized and provide meals for the evacuees, said OEM Deputy Director Allyn Seel.
Overnight one of the buildings at Stanley Holmes Village was evacuated due to a diesel spill that also forced more residents into the shelter, including Joanne Johnson. Johnson said by phone Wednesday that when she arrived, she was given a blanket that was damp and by the time she was given a dry one, her cot was wet and she could not warm up. Johnson decided to leave the shelter and walk back during the day to a relative’s house in the city. She said she was told she could leave, but she was “on her own.”
Parker said that he had been working with the city since Saturday on setting up shelters and making plans and said the shelter at the high school was adequate. Those housed at the shelter were upset because they wanted to go home, he said.
Nearby Sovereign Avenue School sheltered about 80 people Monday night, including Mike Rodriguez, 37, of Ventnor. Rodriguez said had intended to ride out the storm, but got scared when floodwaters started to rise Monday.
Rodriguez tried to leave the island, but police officers directed him to Sovereign Avenue School, he said.
Once the storm picked up, the electricity there went out. As children cried in the darkness and the building’s windows rattled, Rodriguez read text messages from his brother describing the latest publicly-aired spat between Gov. Chris Christie and Atlantic City Mayor Lorenzo Langford as seen on national news. Rodriguez said he grew fearful that politics would compromise state aid — and his life.
According to the plan laid out by the OEM, Sovereign Avenue was one of about six designated as last resorts for those who were not able to make it off the island, said Atlantic City police Capt. Frank Brennan.
The shelters at Buena Vista Township experienced very little activity, in contrast, and St. Augustine Prep is in the process of relocating its residents.
Only about 30 people were at the Red Cross shelter at Buena Regional High School in Buena Vista Township on Wednesday. Officials had expected more evacuees from Atlantic City and the shelter was prepared to handle as many as 150 people.
About 150 Atlantic City evacuees remained at the Buena Regional middle school, however, most having arrived Sunday afternoon. Some sat in the auditorium watching the movie “Transformers” on Wednesday morning, while others took advantage of the chance to take a shower at the school, even if they had to put on the same clothes they had been wearing.
Those needing medical attention were housed at St. Augustine Prep, but George Smith, who works with the school, said they were in the process of shutting down the facility and relocating its 40 residents.
Staff writer Diane D’Amico contributed to this report.
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