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Atlantic City Starts To Dig Out From Sandy


From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Audie Cornish.


And I'm Robert Siegel.

The massive storm that battered the East Coast this week is now fading, but Sandy's toll has become all too clear. In the U.S., at least 66 people are not confirmed dead, eight of them in New Jersey where we begin this hour.

CORNISH: Our co-host Melissa Block is in Atlantic City. She's been talking to people up and down the barrier island which was inundated by Sandy and is still mostly shut down. But cleanup has begun.

MELISSA BLOCK, BYLINE: Oh, Sandy, your name is so fitting. The storm heaved tons of sand up off the beaches as it churned along this narrow barrier island. The water is mostly gone, but that sand is thickly packed, over a foot deep on streets a few blocks in from the ocean in Margate, New Jersey, and now it's up to crews in frontend loaders to dump it back on the beach.

These streets are pretty much deserted. Most people heeded the evacuation order and haven't been allowed back so the people we found are the ones who stayed behind. Teresa Drebeck(ph) piled sandbags outside her front door and hoped for the best and watched as the ocean roared in.

TERESA DREBECK: The waves were incredible. The water was rushing in from the ocean and it was the scariest in my life that I've ever experienced.

BLOCK: Drebeck lives with her disabled parents, ages 88 and 91. Both have had strokes and her mother is brain damaged with a full time aid. She says they evacuated last year for Hurricane Irene, but it was very hard on her parents so this time, she chose to stay. Then, by Monday morning, she realized she'd made the wrong choice and called for help

DREBECK: The police department said that we had an opportunity to leave before and they couldn't help us. So I said, well then, in that case, I need to give you a body count. I told them there were four of us.

BLOCK: They made it through the storm, but now have no power and no flood insurance.

MAYOR NICK RUSSO: Look inside. You can see directly the Atlantic Ocean.

BLOCK: At the narrow tip of the island, the mayor of Longport, New Jersey, Nick Russo, shows me multimillion dollar beach homes that the ocean poured right through, Smashing through the front and out the back, carrying everything inside with it.

RUSSO: People were to evacuate. It was a mandatory evacuation. The problem is, of course, we cannot legislate good common sense. Some people did try to stay. Eventually, we had to rescue them, put our people in harm's way because they didn't use good common sense.

CRAIG ARGOT: Start taking the front, where all the washer and just lay them up on top of the washers.

BLOCK: I find Craig Argot(ph) starting to clean out the Laundromat his family runs in Atlantic City.

ARGOT: We've been on this corner 26 years and only had six inches of water in this building once.

BLOCK: Sandy pushed past the sandbags and came in his Laundromat with a vengeance.

ARGOT: I was a little - and we're figuring we had about two feet, two and a half feet, deepest I've ever seen.

BLOCK: He's enlisted his girlfriend, brother, nephew, everyone he can to try to hose the place down before it starts to stink. And they're trying to flush the salt water out of the washing machines' motors in hopes they can salvage them. The big economic engine in Atlantic City is, of course, the casinos. The giant glittering towers lining the ocean front and all 12 casinos here have been shut down since Sunday, which means millions of dollars in losses every day.

So this may be the oddest sound in Atlantic City right now. A dead silent casino floor, the thousands of slot machines, Siberian Storm, Hot Roll, Pailai(ph) the Hawaiian Goddess, all powered down.

TONY RODEO: It's kind of eerie, yeah.

BLOCK: Tony Rodeo(ph) is the president and CEO of the Tropicana Casino and Resort. He says the casinos sustained minimal damage, but with traffic lights out and debris in the streets, it's prudent for the state to keep them closed for now. He doesn't know when the casinos will reopen, but even when they do, it won't be normal.

RODEO: If you think about where our customers come from, it's mostly New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania. And those three states all got hit pretty bad. But again, we're thinking about things and looking about things from a long term perspective and once people come through something like this, they're going to want to look for a weekend or an opportunity to go away and escape and get away from reality for a weekend.

So we'll be here and ready, willing and able to offer that.

BLOCK: Some good news, the winds have died down today so crews can get up in bucket trucks to work on restoring power. In Atlantic City, New Jersey, I'm Melissa Block. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

As special correspondent and guest host of NPR's news programs, Melissa Block brings her signature combination of warmth and incisive reporting. Her work over the decades has earned her journalism's highest honors, and has made her one of NPR's most familiar and beloved voices.
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