UPDATE: Irene Arrives at the Jersey Shore; Power Outages Reported
Many local residents evacuate, others stay to check out the wrath of Hurricane Irene.
The Jersey Shore started to feel the heavy impact of Hurricane Irene Saturday night and Sunday morning as strong wind gusts and driving rains became more frequent, causing slick roads, poor visibility and plenty of reasons to find shelter.
Tornado warnings were issued across southern and central Ocean County, sending residents to their basements or any shelter they could find.
Moments after the warning blared across the Emergency Alert System, a stillness filled the air, and the wind - which had been ever-present since the afternoon - disappeared.
"The dead stillness of the air after six hours of wind was just eerie," Robert Fastow of Lacey said via Facebook.
The warnings for Ocean County remained in place until 11:45 p.m., according to the Emergency Alert System, which broadcast the warnings.
According to Jersey Central Power & Light, major outages were reported in Neptune, Howell and Manahawkin and Toms River, and spokesman Ron Morano said the power loses would likely continue as the storm gets closer. By 2:40 a.m., JCP&L was reporting nearly 50,000 customers were without power in Monmouth County and nearly 22,000 were dark in Ocean.
A spokesman for Atlantic City Electric said that as of midnight, the company has more than 100,000 customers without power in its service area, including more than 12,000 in Ocean County.
The utility’s infrastructure has received heavy hits from the storm so far, said Arthur Garcia.
The company may need to power down the grid on the barrier islands in Atlantic and Ocean counties to prevent further damage.
“If the water reaches the key electrical equipment, we’ll go ahead and shut it down,” he said.
What began as on-and-off rain showers during the day Saturday turned more wicked by sunset.
The wind howled on the Point Pleasant Beach boardwalk, downing palm trees placed on Jenkinson's Beach during calmer times. A few miles downshore in Seaside Heights, the front edge of Hurricane Irene's storm surge caused waves to inch closer to the boardwalk before finally breaking the barrier and breaching under.
In Brick, heavy rains caused some minor flooding in the Shore Acres section, and tree branches hung low on Princeton Avenue. Electronic signs at the foot of the Mantoloking Bridge warned against crossing Barnegat Bay to Route 35.
On Brick's portion of the barrier island, a sign outside Used to Be's bar advertised a hurricane party, but the establishment was closed, a victim of the mandatory evacuation order from Friday night.
Few stores were open. Even 24 hour standbys such as Wawa and 7-Eleven were closed and, in some cases, boarded and taped up.
Many homes were also dark, especially in Point Pleasant Beach, Bay Head and neighborhoods close to the water. Many residents flocked to county-run shelters in Toms River and Manahawkin.
So many, in fact, that the main shelter at Toms River North High School was filled to capacity. A second shelter opened at Toms River Intermediate School North. In Barnegat, residents from as far away as Atlantic City took refuge at that township's high school, which was also being used as a shelter.
The Manasquan River was beginning to slightly overflow its banks as high tide approached Saturday night. Residents in Point Pleasant Boro and Beach moved their cars to higher grounds on various residential streets.
In Brick, a marina parking lot on Princeton Avenue served as a makeshift community lot.
But for some locals, the excitement of Hurricane Irene was too much to contain at home.
Brendan Hart and his son, Devin, came to the Maryland Avenue beach in Point Beach to catch a glimpse of the high surf. The Harts, from Point Boro, said they made the trip to the beach because they thought the hurricane would be "exciting."
"I never thought about leaving," Brendan Hart said, as his already-matted hair got ever more soaked from the rain. "I wouldn't miss this for the world."