ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. (AP) — The first blow from Hurricane Sandy as it turned toward the East Coast on Monday flooded Atlantic City and other New Jersey shore towns, forced road closures, stranded residents who did not heed evacuation orders and knocked out power to hundreds of thousands.
Gov. Chris Christie warned people stranded on barrier islands that rescuers would not reach them until Tuesday morning and he blasted Atlantic City's mayor for encouraging people to stay in shelters rather than moving inland.
"It shouldn't have been an option," the governor said.
Forecasters said the hurricane's center would come ashore in far southern New Jersey or central Delaware on Monday evening and bring 90 mph winds. Christie said the state seems to be lucky that the storm has sped up so that the worst winds will come before high tide. The storm is expected to merge with a winter storm later in the night.
"I have never seen so much water in the inlet," said Bob McDevitt, president of the main Atlantic City casino workers union and a lifelong Atlantic City resident, who was riding out the storm in his home. "When I think about how much water is already in the streets, and how much more is going to come with high tide tonight, this is going to be devastating."
Christie was hoping that low tide on Monday afternoon would give those who had not yet evacuated the state's barrier islands a chance to get out. In some places, they were stuck: By mid-afternoon, all three ways into and out of Ocean City were closed, and Atlantic City was cut off, meaning that those who had not left already were likely stuck for the duration of the storm.
"This is not a time to be a show-off, this is not a time to be stupid. This is the time to save yourself and your family," Christie said at a news conference.
Those who did not heed evacuation orders, he said, were putting themselves and rescue workers in harm's way, calling them "stupid and selfish."
Sandy was one component of what forecasters expected would become a massive storm over the eastern third of the U.S., with damaging winds, flooding and prolonged power outages. By late Monday morning, the National Hurricane Center said Sandy had strengthened with winds of 90 mph.
An evacuation order Sunday helped clear out Atlantic City and shut down casinos. The city's historic boardwalk remained mostly intact Monday, despite rising floodwaters and an old, 50-foot section at the north end that broke up and washed away. Officials instituted a 6 p.m. curfew.
"It looks like it's going to be worse than the storm of '62, which was monumental," said Willie Glass, Atlantic City's public safety director. "Saving lives and making sure everyone is safe is our priority."
Roads were flooded, making it impossible for most people on the island to get off. City workers used boats to get people out of their homes and onto higher ground. Ambulances staged at the city's convention center were stranded there because the building was surrounded by water.
State Emergency Management spokeswoman Mary Goepfert said about 115,000 residents were ordered to evacuate the state's barrier islands, and local officials ordered many more in their towns. It was not known how many heeded the warning. She said more than 2,200 people were in shelters statewide.
Nearly 430,000 homes and businesses across New Jersey were without power Monday as the state braced for a storm surge expected to cause record-breaking flooding. The 129-mile stretch of the Garden State Parkway south of Long Beach Island in both directions and public transportation was shut down.
The state was under an emergency declaration, signed by President Barack Obama, that will allow New Jersey to request federal funding and other assistance and expedite repair work after the storm passes.
Every school in the state was closed Monday and the number deciding to close Tuesday grew to more than half the districts by Monday afternoon. State officials were also strongly suggesting that schools and colleges close Tuesday.
The center of the storm was expected to make landfall on Monday evening near Cape May, at New Jersey's southern tip.
Cape May antique shop owner Pete Wilson said water crept up 6 inches above the doorsill of his North End Garage shop and he felt certain he was going to suffer a big hit, despite his efforts to protect the property. His shop, located on the bayside of Cape May, serves many of the city's popular Victorian bed-and-breakfasts.
"I know there is water in there right now," he said after returning home in nearby Cape May Courthouse. "I am not too happy. I am just going to have to wait, and hopefully clean up."
Besides water coming through the front door, he also expects sewer backups that will overflow the toilet.
Wilson had taken a truckload of antiques out, including jewelry, books and furniture, and tried to elevate other furniture, but said he knew he would still have losses. "My jewelry cases are going to be toast," he said.
Flooding has become commonplace for residents of northern New Jersey river communities and they braced for another round. By midday, the Hudson River was overflowing its banks in Hoboken.
Clara Widdison, an exchange student from England who lives in nearby Jersey City, joked about how she got ready for the storm.
"My preparation is I've put a bottle of vodka in the bathroom and a package of roasted cashews ... and a heart-shaped pillow," she said. "In England, we don't have these extreme types of weather, so that's why it's hard for us to take it seriously and it's all fun and games. But I have a feeling we're not going to be laughing in another three or four hours."