Atlantic City residents crowded pickup locations at the Sovereign Avenue and New York Avenue schools Sunday to escape to a shelter offshore as rain from Hurricane Sandy began to spray the city.
School buses transported residents, 52 at a time, to the Atlantic City Convention Center to be processed and redirected to a designated shelter in the resort’s second evacuation in history. About 250 chairs were separated into sections, to organize the travelers as they arrived by the busload.
“I have no idea where I will be going,” resident Silvia Vasquez said. Standing alongside a crowd of other residents, Vasquez waited outside the Sovereign Avenue School with her daughter, Yohana, 7, son, Abiezer Gonzalez, 2, and husband, Eduardo Gonzalez. Vasquez said she had packed as much as she could to last about three days, but traveling with a young child meant loading up on diapers and wipes, in addition to food and clothing.
Many residents were anxious as they left their homes for shelters on the mainland, but no major problems were reported as the evacuation took place.
In Atlantic County, Red Cross-operated shelters were opened at Pleasantville High School, Pleasantville Middle School, Buena Regional High School, Buena Regional Middle School, and Saint Augustine Preparatory High School. Within hours of opening, the Pleasantville and Buena high schools were filled to capacity. Evacuees arrived by the busload carrying their belongings in small suitcases, tote bags and, in some cases, large trash bags.
“We want to ensure that people have a safe place to stay. That’s the primary focus,” said Carol Cohen, executive director of the Southern Shore Chapter of the Red Cross. “There will always be the people who at midnight will decide that maybe staying wasn’t the best idea and will then try to find a shelter. We’ll do our best as it comes.”
Marlene Glasco, 66, waited at a school pushing a cart with days of food, clothing and toiletries. She left her family in their apartment in the city.
“They didn’t want to come. They stayed behind,” said Glasco, who was told she would be going to Pleasantville High School.
There, evacuees settled in Sunday afternoon, some watching the Philadelphia Eagles game on large televisions in school hallways. Still, obstacles arose for some. One couple arrived about 2:30 p.m. with a small white dog only to be told that the Pleasantville shelters didn’t accept animals but the Buena shelters would.
Atlantic City Office of Emergency Management Director Tom Foley said it appeared people were more responsive to evacuation efforts, possibly because of difficulties from last year’s evacuation prior to Tropical Storm Irene. Residents also seemed better prepared with evacuation kits, Foley said, following a public service announcement on Channel 2 that showed residents and city law enforcement demonstrating how to prepare.
A mix of buses and jitneys helped transport people to the convention center. Jitneys traveled to various apartment complexes and senior living facilities, in addition to maintaining their regular route along Pacific Avenue, Jitney Association president Tom Woodruff said.
With the help of church buses, the Atlantic City Rescue Mission was able to evacuate their clients to safer grounds Sunday at Shore Fellowship Church in Egg Harbor Township. Dan Brown, the mission’s chief operations officer, said the evacuation would require about two or three trips.
The evacuees had their belongings with them, along with bags of clothing, mattresses, blankets, pillows and supplies to last three days. Three people planned to remain behind at the mission in case any remaining individuals tried to come in, Brown said.
Staff writer Emily Previti contributed to this report.
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