ATLANTIC CITY — Local businesses are offering food, shelter and more to those fleeing Tropical Storm Florence.
“It’s the right thing to do, period,” said Ocean Resort Casino owner Bruce Deifik, who unwittingly started a goodwill campaign in Atlantic City by opening up his 1,400-room hotel to evacuees free of charge. “It’s not more complicated than that.”
By Friday afternoon, more than 600 rooms had been reserved for those traveling up Interstate 95 from North and South Carolina, Virginia and Georgia. The casino hotel is booked through Saturday but expects to be able to accommodate more evacuees between Sunday and Thursday.
Deifik’s charity could end up costing him between $250,000 and $300,000 in lost revenue.
“I don’t care if it was $250 million; it’s not about that,” he said. “This is the right thing to do for people who needed help.”
Deifik said some of his team members even went a step further after the available rooms were gone.
“They said, ‘Listen, Boss, if you’re full we’ll offer rooms at our house,’” he said. “Pretty strong. That tells you about the family, the culture that’s being created here. And it’s a great thing.”
Jennifer and Melanie Liebelt were among the hundreds of storm victims who took Ocean Resort up on its offer of free accommodations. Ironically, the mother-daughter duo are ex-New Jersey residents who moved to North Carolina after Hurricane Sandy ravaged their hometowns in Monmouth County. Along with two brothers, two sisters, a cousin and a cat, the Liebelts are grateful to have a place to ride out the storm.
“It’s very easy to mistrust others,” said Jennifer Liebelt, a 27-year-old grad student at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. “But (Deifik) was willing to lend a helping hand. He went out of his way to talk to us and tell us he was glad we were safe.”
Melanie Liebelt, 54, now lives in Wilmington, North Carolina, an area of the coast that is directly in the path of Florence. She was convinced by her daughter to leave the area after Wilmington officials ordered a mandatory evacuation. Liebelt’s backyard, which abuts a small river, has turned into a small pond, as evident by pictures on her cellphone. After all the hardships she endured while riding out Sandy in 2012, Liebelt said leaving North Carolina was a good decision.
“I’m not going to take that risk,” she said. “Why put myself through all that misery? I’m glad to be here because it’s helping with my anxiety (from watching the storm coverage).”
Ocean Resort announced its humanitarian effort Wednesday, and by Friday other Atlantic City businesses wanted to do their part for the storm evacuees. At Hayday Coffee on Tennessee Avenue, people from storm-hit areas can get a hot cup o’ joe on the house.
“Atlantic City is a shore community just like the communities that are being affected by the hurricane, and we just want to do anything we can to support the people who are coming to our city,” said Hayday co-owner Loryn Simonsen. “That’s what Atlantic City is all about.”
Others have joined the effort as well. At Little Water Distillery on Baltic Avenue, evacuees can get a free tour and spirit tasting, a free pasta dinner is available at Choice Bar and Grill on Albany Avenue, and a free pancake breakfast is being offered at Cardinal Bistro in Ventnor on Sunday.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.