The Oct. 29 tidal surge cut electricity, contaminated the water supply and flooded most of the Back Bay neighborhood just blocks from the casinos. The four-foot flood mark was visible along houses and sheds for blocks. Couches, refrigerators, stoves, baby carriages, clothing and other household items were heaped high and lined the sidewalks on street after street.
“Haven’t heard from FEMA [Federal Emergency Management Agency],” Tony Ingram, an African-American in his 50s, told the Militant. “They promised but have never been in touch.”
Ingram, just off work from the Showboat Casino where he has been a maintenance worker for 27 years, was working to clean out his basement apartment before nightfall. His sister, niece and son were helping him.
“We came over to help,” Janet, Ingram’s niece who works as a local bus driver, told the Militant. “All of our possessions are out on the street. No government agency has been out here. So we’ve been doing what we can,” she said, standing in the ankle-deep mud and sand that covered the floor of Ingram’s apartment.
Ingram said some family members and neighbors were evacuated as far north as New Brunswick to the Rutgers University campus more than 100 miles away. They weren’t told of their destination prior to leaving.
The city’s tourist industry attracts tens of thousands year-round to the entertainment venues, outlet stores and casinos. The $3.3 billion casino business employs 36,000 workers from the city and surrounding towns.
The city’s population, just under 40,000, is 44 percent African-American.
Federal aid, promised by Gov. Christopher Christie and President Barack Obama during their visit here, has yet to arrive. The only evidence of FEMA was “disaster assistance” leaflets explaining “how to apply for relief” stacked on the counter in a reopened convenience store.
In the Sovereign Elementary School parking lot a few blocks from the casinos, more than 100 Back Bay residents waited in line for food donations from neighbors, Catholic Charities and the Red Cross.
While Militant worker correspondents were there, a neighborhood resident came by with his pickup truck, which he used to ferry food from across town.
The school, located on elevated ground, was spared the flooding that devastated surrounding homes. As the water rose, some residents tried to get into the building, Tony Romero, who is disabled and lives in the neighborhood, told the Militant. “When the bay surge came, we went to the school. But the rent-a-cop inside refused to let us in. For a week we had no power or food. I lived on peanut butter and bread.”
“We had no electricity so we couldn’t watch the news to find out what was happening,” Romero explained. “No one came, so we helped each other.”
Police imposed a 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. curfew on the city. “The cops wouldn’t let us into Back Bay with food or water,” county worker Gary Wright said. Upon returning to his neighborhood after curfew, “they pulled up and told us ‘to get the f--- out of here.’”
The curfew remained in effect after the casinos reopened. A casino worker said he and several coworkers coming off shift were harassed by the police as they walked to their Back Bay homes.
“Mayor [Lorenzo] Langford never came out here [Back Bay]. The casinos had power and were dry. They took care of them,” Wright said.
“Christie called us stupid because we didn’t all evacuate,” Wright said, referring to an Oct 29 televised news conference by New Jersey’s governor.
“But they never told us where we would be taken to. And who would protect what we did have. There was looting right after some people left their homes. So some of us stayed to protect what little we have,” he explained.
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