ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. — Police were searching Friday for the parents of 10 children who were left to fend for themselves in a crack house for three weeks with no running water, heat or electricity.
The children, ages 2 to 16, apparently lived on canned vegetables and brought in buckets of water to use in a toilet.
Authorities also found a hole in the roof, bedspreads covering a back door, dog feces in a hallway and soggy floorboards ready to collapse.
The situation was discovered Thursday when a neighbor complained that the smell of kerosene was emanating from the two-story row house four blocks from the city's casino strip.
When authorities got closer, they also found the house smelled of drugs.
"As soon as you hit the top of the steps, all you could smell was crack," said Garry Alston, the city's chief code enforcement officer. There was evidence of drug use in the house, he said.
When authorities tried to question the children, an 11-year-old boy who appeared to be in charge told them not to talk, according to Hugh Gallagher, a city inspector.
The children were two sets of siblings. One set had six children, the other four.
Seven of the children were taken to Atlantic City Medical Center to be evaluated. No medical treatment was needed, however, and all the children were placed in foster care.
Some of the children told authorities they were from Camden, N.J., and Philadelphia and that one of the mothers dropped them off at the house three weeks ago.
"The younger ones weren't ready to talk to us. The ones that were talking were getting smacked by their 11-year-old brother for talking to us, telling them to shut up," Gallagher said.
An aunt of at least one of the children lived down the street and was checking on them from time to time, but no adults were staying at the house, Gallagher said.
"This is obviously a frustrating situation, one that makes all of us upset, as it would any reasonable person," said Mayor James Whelan.
The city boarded up the house Friday and posted signs that read: "Warning. This structure is unfit for human occupancy."