Frank McCloskey, 30, of Cape May removes Boardwalk benches from Beach Avenue in Cape May as the City prepares for the storm Saturday.

Edward Lea

Jake Wright said he has never evacuated for a storm in 88 years, and he does not plan on doing so for Hurricane Sandy.

Wright, of Cape May, said Saturday morning that he planned to sit at home and wait it out, just as he did when Tropical Storm Irene approached last year.

“I’ll be sitting here, reading, and if the lights go out, I got batteries,” he said. “I just hope the TV doesn’t go out, because there’s a lot of football on tomorrow.”

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The locals in Cape May and Lower Township were fairly cavalier about the evacuations and statewide state of emergency declared Saturday. Two days before the storm was expected to hit New Jersey, several people said they were not intimidated.

“Irene put a bad taste in their mouth,” said Jim Dickson, of North Wildwood, owner of the Shark Bait gift shop.

Dickson said last year’s countywide evacuation left a lot of people jaded about the ability of emergency personnel and meteorologists to predict impending disasters. He said it also caused him to lose tens of thousands of dollars in potential revenue.

“When they say 80 (mph winds), we get 60; when they say 60, we get 40,” he said.

Several people in the county mentioned former Cape May County Emergency Management Director Frank McCall telling people last year that if they did not evacuate they should put an index card in their shoe identifying themselves for cleanup crews who would find their bodies.

Cheryl Fitzgerald, a supervisor at The Shirt Shop of Cape May, said that frustrated her and other locals, saying it caused unnecessary panic.

“I’m not evacuating,” said Fitzgerald, of the North Cape May section of Lower Township. “I didn’t evacuate last year.”

Sean King, owner of Colds Spring Carpentry, was boarding up businesses along Beach Avenue on Saturday morning. He said people were more panicked last year ahead of Irene, and thought they simply did not believe the warnings about Sandy.

“Last year was a joke,” he said.

King, of Cape May, said he and his family also planned to stay and wait out the storm. He said he thought the evacuations were premature, and that the hurricane’s strength could not be properly judged until it got closer.

King’s crew later put wood on the windows of Uncle Bill’s Pancake House, where owner Tom O’Hara was also planning to take down his outdoor awning. O’Hara said he put up boards last year and broke two windows doing so.

“I probably wouldn’t have had any damage if it didn’t,” he said.

At the same time, he said he wasn’t going to try his luck by not making precautions.

“When you do nothing, that’s when it hits,” he said.

Emergency management officials spent Saturday trying to convince people that last year’s evacuation was a justifiable precaution and that locals should consider themselves lucky thus far. As Sandy roared up the coast, they tried to impress upon people that this situation was serious.

“It’s time to look for another place to go,” Sea Isle City Mayor Len Desiderio said he was telling residents on his barrier island Saturday.

Nevertheless, Desiderio said he would be staying in town with emergency management personnel.

“The mayor’s got to stay with the ship,” he said.

Some people said they did not think leaving for the mainland would be safer anyway, especially since Irene caused more flooding in rivers and lakes than on the coast in South Jersey.

Brigantine resident Keith Evans, a former member of the Coast Guard, said he wasn’t going to evacuate for that very reason.

“Where are you going to go? Absecon? Smithville?” he said. “I’ll stay in my house. I have my kayak and scuba gear. I might get rescued by one of my own guys.”

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