ATLANTIC CITY - With a monster Hurricane Sandy steadily approaching, the New Jersey coast shuddered as predictions of a storm unlike any in memory began to come true. Some low-lying seashore towns were already underwater by high tide Monday morning, hours before the storm makes landfall.
The latest storm track shows Hurricane Sandy taking a hard left turn in the Atlantic and heading for a direct hit on New Jersey. Best predictions had the storm center roaring ashore near Atlantic City or farther north. Sustained winds of near 50 mph were expected Monday night, with gusts above hurricane speed.
"The bull's-eye does appear to be on New Jersey," said Linda Gilmore, spokeswoman for Atlantic County government, which includes Atlantic City.
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"No one alive has seen a storm making a turn like this and making a direct hit on New Jersey," Gary Szatkowski, meteorologist at the National Weather Service in Mount Holly, N.J., said in an interview on New Jersey public television. "Relying on past experience could be a deadly mistake."
In an early sign of the storm's fury, the narrow sandbar town of Sea Bright was swamped by a huge morning tide overwhelming a concrete sea wall and meeting the Shrewsbury River, which flows behind the town.
Danny Drogin, the seaside town's emergency management coordinator, said many residents had ignored evacuation orders issued Sunday. "We can't carry them out if they want to stay," he said.
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"People are now trying to get out, and getting stuck, and we're having to go pull them out," he said.
With the worst still to come, Drogin said he and other emergency workers were debating whether to clear out themselves to save the fire trucks and other rescue equipment.
"We might have to bail out tonight, so it's going to get bad," he said, "We'll lock the gates behind us, so to speak."
Many New Jersey residents, used to a barrage of past storm warnings that proved overblown, decided to weather the storm in their homes. Only an estimated 30,000 of the 66,000 residents of the barrier island towns in south Jersey have evacuated, Gilmore said.
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"There's a lot of people who chose to stay," Gilmore said at the Atlantic County emergency operations center. "We tried to emphasize the fact that this was a storm unlike any other. It's human nature to want to wait until they see the storm before they make a decision. But with a storm like this, that may mean it's too late."
With the waters rising, Gilmore said rescuers would have a hard time reaching people. "We're praying that they'll be safe," she said.
Area schools will be closed Monday and Tuesday, airports were closed, and emergency officials closed off vulnerable bridges. About 400 to 500 people hunkered down in shelters, said Gilmore. The boardwalk on Atlantic City was lashed with waves, and some of the city's 12 casinos were boarded up.
At the WaWa convenience store, Lt. David White was carrying out a vat of coffee for the firehouse. He said Sandy was making him a believer. On Sunday night, a tree branch fell, knocked down an electric wire and set the side of a house on fire.
"This is not a good sign," he said. "It's going to be a long day."
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