New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie faulted Atlantic City Mayor Lorenzo Langford for advising residents to stay put as Hurricane Sandy barreled in, leaving a large number stranded as water levels rise.
"There is no way for us to go get them," Christie said.
Rescuers can't reach shelters and homes in the city until at least daybreak, the first-term Republican governor said at a 5:35 p.m. news briefing. One shelter, a public school, is "literally a block away from the bay," he said.
The hurricane bore down on the Garden State packing sustained winds of as much as 85 miles (137 kilometers) per hour at 7 p.m., and came ashore along the state's southern coast. The deadly storm, measuring 900 miles across, may leave as much as $20 billion of property damage in its wake. By the time the storm made landfall, the city's fabled boardwalk was awash in the surf.
"This has become particularly problematic in Atlantic City, where for whatever reason Mayor Langford urged people to stay in shelters in the city," the governor said. A man who answered the telephone in the mayor's office said he was unavailable to comment as he was out assessing the effects of the storm.
"For those of you who are on the barrier islands who decided it was better idea to wait this out than to evacuate, and for those elected officials who decided to ignore my admonition, this is now your responsibility," Christie said. He ordered people to leave the coastal areas Saturday. "Evacuations are no longer possible," the governor said at the briefing.
Some people sheltering at the Golden Nugget casino agreed with Christie's criticism of Langford and said the mayor should have done more to help with evacuation and storm preparation.
"He should have made sure the evacuation was mandatory," said Cary Putzer about Langford.
Putzer was in the casino because he couldn't walk to a city shelter. He said he called the local emergency response telephone numbers four times before finally being told no one would be coming to pick him up and take him to a safer location.
"The lady started screaming at me and said you need to get to a shelter by yourself and then we can help you," Putzer said. The Brigantine Island resident said he walked across a bridge into the city to find shelter.
Luz Guevara also walked to the casino after calling the local emergency response numbers. The Atlantic City resident said she began asking for help Sunday night for both herself and her family, including six grandchildren. Coast Guard personnel holed up at the casino finally used their personal vehicles to take Guevara and her family to a shelter.
"If you're still able to hear me, we need you to hunker down and get to the highest point possible," Christie said, speaking those who remained in the storm's path from state police headquarters in West Trenton. "I cannot in good conscience send rescuers in as the storm is about to hit."
A 21-member search-and-rescue team will be sent to Atlantic City starting at daybreak. Another team, with 40 members and 10 boats that's based in Lakehurst, will be dispatched to other barrier islands.
New Jersey's gambling centre is trying to attract new visitors and reclaim some of the gamblers who frequented the city when it had an East Coast monopoly. It has lost customers to newer casinos in Pennsylvania, Delaware and New York.
Christie has expanded casino marketing, eased regulations and created a tourism district around the resorts to give the state a greater role in policing and development. He gave the Revel Entertainment Group a $261 million tax break to help restart construction. The company's oceanside hotel and wagering rooms had a grand opening in May.