More than a million people fled resort towns along the New Jersey shore ahead of powerful Hurricane Irene, whose arrival on Saturday was just hours away. Mandatory evacuations covered all of the state’s barrier island beach resorts, including such well-known and popular spots as Atlantic City, Cape May and Long Beach Island.
Irene was expected to hit the state with at least 75 miles per hour winds and 6 to 12 inches of rain starting on Saturday night.
“Over one million people have left the Jersey shore in the past 24 hours,” Governor Chris Christie said at a news conference. “The best way to preserve human life on the Jersey shore is for there to be no human beings on the Jersey shore.”
At an American Red Cross shelter in Toms River, about eight miles west of the barrier island town of Seaside Heights, 375 people were preparing to sleep on cots in a high school auditorium, Reuters reported. Gov. Christie said that in Atlantic County, one of three counties fully evacuated, 90 percent of residents and visitors had left, but a few elderly people were staying put.
Casinos and hotels in Atlantic City were emptied out on orders of the governor. 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, also under evacuation orders, said only about 10,000 people, out of about 800,000 people who live or were visiting, remained. She said that according to Atlantic City Electric, some 8,000 customers in Cape May County were without power Saturday evening.