Thousands flee Jersey shore as surfers ride storm's waves

Reuters News
Posted: Aug 27, 2011 11:38 AM
Thousands flee Jersey shore as surfers ride storm's waves

By Michael Fitzpatrick

LONG BRANCH, New Jersey (Reuters) - Thousands of residents fled resort towns along the New Jersey shore on Saturday ahead of powerful Hurricane Irene whose arrival was just hours away.

Mandatory evacuations covered all of the state's barrier island beach resorts, including such popular spots as Atlantic City, Cape May and Long Beach Island, and affected hundreds of thousands of residents and summer visitors, officials said.

The looming storm was bringing the biggest waves of the season, prompting scores of surfers to flock to the beaches despite gray clouds and rain.

"It's the waves," said Guy Gallo of Little Silver, N.J., as he prepared to paddle out into the Atlantic Ocean.

"But you don't want to get caught out when the hurricane hits," he added.

The Category 1 hurricane, expected to hit the region late on Saturday or early on Sunday, is likely to pack winds of 55 to 75 miles an hour, weather experts said.

Damage to resort boardwalks is likely, forecasters said.

At a doughnut shop in Sea Bright, a sign advertising its closing hours read: "Friday 10 p.m., Saturday noon, Sunday, Good Luck."

Casinos and hotels in Atlantic City were emptying out after orders by Governor Chris Christie that all casinos close by noon on Saturday. A state of emergency has been in effect in New Jersey since Thursday.

A southbound stretch of nearly 100 miles of the Garden State Parkway south of the Raritan River was closed, as was the Atlantic City Expressway, which heads to Philadelphia.

A spokeswoman for Cape May County, which was under mandatory evacuation orders, said only about 10,000 people, out of about 800,000 people who live or were visiting, remained.

All along the shore towns, homeowners were taking precautions. In the wealthy enclave of Deal, workers were boarding up windows on some of its mansions. Household employees huddled in bus shelters, waiting to go home.

(Additional reporting by Dave Warner in Philadelphia, editing by Ellen Wulfhorst and Peter Bohan)