People walk along the Atlantic City Boardwalk in Atlantic City, N.J., as… (Joseph Kaczmarek / Associated…)
ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. -- In his 39 years in this seaside gambling resort, Oscar Mollineaux has seen a lot of storms, and heard a lot of doomsday weather warnings that amounted to nothing. So he initially shrugged off reports that a monster storm was taking aim at New Jersey.
"I started looking at the news last night, and they said this is like nothing that anybody has ever seen before," said Mollineaux, a game supervisor at the Taj Mahal casino. "That's when I changed my mind."
Hurricane Sandy, which is expected to make landfall late Monday, looks destructive enough "to scare the hell out of you."
With forecasts showing little chance that the southern Jersey coastline will escape the giant storm's fury, Gov. Chris Christie ordered Atlantic City's casinos to close by midafternoon and set a 4 p.m. deadline for people to evacuate barrier islands from Cape May in the south to Sandy Hook near New York City.
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Universities, schools and state offices announced closings, regional and commuter trains to New York and Washington began to shut down, and the National Guard began mobilizing troops for emergency response.
The Atlantic City boardwalk was mostly deserted other than sightseers gawking at the waves and workers rushing to board up pizza stands and shops. Locals traded speculation about whether Sandy -- where forecasters say a high storm surge will coincide with a full moon's tides -- will bring water as high as the nightmare storm of 1962, when a three-day nor'easter caused extensive flooding and killed 40 people across the region.
Tony Tabasso, fire chief in Margate, emerged from an emergency briefing in midafternoon with hopeful news, at least for residents here: The eye of the storm was shifting north, and government forecasters said the worst flooding was likely to occur even farther north as counterclockwise winds pushed more water onshore.
"Anything north of here is good for us," Tabasso said.
Steve Chapko, who lives in near-side Ventnor, decided to get out of town when he saw how high the tides rose on Sunday morning.
"We just don't know what to expect," he said. "We don't know what we're going to come back to, and we don't know how long it will be before we can even come back."
Chapko, 47, said he is staying with relatives in Philadelphia -- but he's not sure that will be much more comfortable, as city leaders warned of possible widespread power outages.
Others plan on staying put despite the mounting warnings of Sandy's power.
When Hurricane Irene approached in August 2011, "they scared everybody - 'Write your house number on your arm, so we can identify you,'" said Tom Morgan, who supervised a crew reinforcing a door at Resorts hotel casino. That storm was downgraded by the time it hit shore and did limited damage here.
"This time a lot of people aren't listening to the message," said Morgan. He plans to sit out the storm at his home in nearby Brigantine.
On the beach in Margate, next to the landmark Lucy the Elephant building, a small crowd downed drinks at the Greenhouse Cafe and cheered news that the bar would stay open another hour.
Bob "Doggie" Law, an employee of the Margate water department, said he heeded an evacuation order during Irene and he ended up with bedbug bites from the ratty motel where he ended up. "I'm not going anywhere," he said.
Barbara Gigliotti said she too was staying -- and making lasagna.
"We have batteries, we have a generator, we have food," she said. "I know about this. It's like I say to my son, and he has it tattooed on him: 'Fear is a lack of faith.'"
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