Staff Writer

Emergency personnel in Stafford Township and Long Beach Island pulled residents from homes Monday and took them to the Red Cross Shelter at Southern Regional High School as weather conditions worsened.

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In Stafford Township, volunteer firefighters and police personnel started at 7 a.m., driving military trucks and humvees through flooded streets to pluck residents from homes in the Beach Haven West section of town.

Residents in Beach Haven West were awakened by emergency lights, sirens and a warning on a public-address system to evacuate immediately.

A few residents were refusing to leave. Others had started to pack up for their exit.

“This is the last-ditch effort. They need to go. If they don’t want to go, tell them we’re not coming back,” said Heidi Michel, emergency management coordinator.

Michel, who is also the deputy fire chief of the Stafford Township Volunteer Fire Company, warned residents still at home this morning that they were running out of time.

“You have to get out. In about another hour, it’s going to get really bad,” Michel told a woman who was attempting to evacuate this morning with her disabled husband.

Joseph Carino was reunited with his boys, Ethan and Joseph, who were with their mother at her home on Selma Drive on Monday morning.

The boys were brought to Carino on Jennifer Drive on a military truck driven by Stafford Township Volunteer firefighter Jason Spisak. Carino reached up and pulled them off the truck as firefighters handed the boys teddy bears.

“Their mother just bought a house here and wanted to ride out the storm. I’m thankful they went in and got my boys,” Carino said as he put them in his SUV.

On Monday afternoon, police personnel requested more military vehicles, dubbed deuce-and-a-half trucks, from the National Guard to continue to transport evacuees to higher ground.

A majority of residents were removed from homes on Jennifer, Harry and Morris Drive, said Deputy Fire Chief Heidi Michel. The Stafford Township Volunteer Fire Department will need to use their boat to navigate through flooded streets to reach the homes, Michel said.

Stafford Township police Lt. Thomas Dellane said numerous roads in the Cedar Bonnet Island, Mud City, Mallard Island and Beach Haven West sections of town were flooded and impassable.

Township garbage trucks blocked East Bay Avenue and Hilliard Boulevard, which also flooded. Police were asking all residents to stay off the roads to allow emergency workers access to the flooded areas.

A mandatory evacuation for those areas was issued Sunday, but some residents remained in their homes.

“About 25 people have been evacuated so far today,” Dellane said.

Stafford Township police Chief Joseph Giberson said a mandatory evacuation of the Manahawkin Trailer Park on East Bay Avenue, because the structures are not rated to withstand the coming winds.

Workers were continuing to remove people from homes into Monday afternoon, Dellane said. The last attempts at rescue were with personnel using a boat in the bay near portions of Beach Haven West, he said.

“Right now, it’s the calm before the storm,” he said. “When it becomes too dangerous, which I can’t predict when that will be, we will stop.”

Emergency personnel continued evacuating stranded residents into Monday afternoon, as the wind picked up and flooding worsened with high tide.

Police officials from Long Beach Island positioned themselves at the Stafford Township Emergency Operations Center at township hall and continued organizing evacuations from the island.

On Monday afternoon, officials were planning to use military vehicles to take another 100 people from the island to the Southern Regional High School shelter.

Holdouts across Long Beach Island began calling police Monday morning asking for help evacuating the island as conditions worsened.

“People who thought they could make it out are starting to panic, because the tide is coming in now,” Harvey Cedars police Chief Thomas Preiser said.

The south end of the island was in worse shape than the north end, Preiser said. By Monday morning, the ocean met the street on Bay Avenue in Beach Haven, where ocean waves breached the dunes, he said.

Preiser watched surveillance-camera footage on laptop that showed aerial views of sections of the island that were completely underwater.

The officials gathered at the Stafford Township Emergency Operations Center patched in to a conference phone call with Gov. Chris Christie and his cabinet Monday afternoon.

The worst-case scenario was unfolding, and the storm was coming ashore near Atlantic City or Ocean City, Gary Szatkowski, meteorologist at the National Weather Service, said during the phone call.

The high tide coming Monday evening would be the worst so far, Szatkowski said.

“Wind, rain and coastal flooding is upon us,” he said.

He said he expected relief mid to late morning today.

“This is a rapidly evolving event with lots of difficult challenges placed before us every minute,” Christie told the officials on the other end of the line.

New Jersey State Police Col. Rick Fuentes said about 90 percent of the barrier island communities complied with evacuation orders.

“There are about a half dozen communities that did not (evacuate), and we’re a little upset about the number of people who are still there,” Fuentes said.

“It would have been a lot easier and put people at less risk if they had complied,” he said.

Residents who still need shelter can go to the Southern Regional High School 11-12 building on Route 9. The shelter has a capacity of 320 people. Monday afternoon, 220 evacuees were there, police said. Police were expecting to transport another 100 residents from Long Beach Island and had requested 100 more beds from the county, Dellane said.

Preiser said crews were mobilizing a final effort to evacuate remaining residents across Long Beach Island.

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Follow Donna Weaver on Twitter @DonnaKWeaver

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