By Tim Kelly
It is one of Ocean City’s most exclusive addresses. The Gardens Plaza condominium at Park Place and the Boardwalk is the only building of its kind on the island.
The luxury highrise of more than 180 one, two and three bedroom units boasts a heated pool and oversized deck, fully equipped gym, party room and library/TV room. But on Tuesday in the early morning hours, the “GP” took on an entirely different atmosphere. A burst standpipe on the penthouse level of the north stairwell flooded a large portion of the building and caused the evacuation and displacement of about 30 fulltime year-round residents.
Instead of the usual chatter in the lobby about upcoming events such as the monthly “Ladies Lunch,” the talk was about evacuation, the needs of the elderly and the infirm, and how to best find shelter for the night and possibly for days to come.
But through it all, there was a positive aspect: a spirit of cooperation among the residents, the hard work of the small but dedicated staff, the heroic and selfless efforts of the first responders on the scene. This seemed to bring everyone closer together, residents said.
“We are a community of people and the (year-round residents) are especially close,” said William Whiteside, a resident of the 9th floor. “That really came through last night.”
The initial call to police and fire went out at approximately 1:45 pm when the security guard on duty was surprised by a torrent of water crashing through a tile on the lobby’s drop ceiling. The standpipe in the building’s north stairwell was found to have a large section blown out, apparently by the relatively sudden thawing of the pipe after days of single digit temperatures.
Thousand of gallons of water then spilled onto the penhouse level landing and down the stairwell,
Police, fire and EMS personnel arrived “right away” according to residents, and they immediately went to work.
First responders went floor by floor “strongly suggesting” the residents to gather a few clothing items and toiletries and to prepare to evacuate, a resident said.
Some of the bullding’s elderly residents were carried down from their apartments on star chairs, ncluding some who live on upper floors.
“The men were great,” said Irene Dickey, 91, who was carried down to the lobby from her ninth floor unit. “lt was scary at first but by the time we reached the lobby we were best friends.”
The vast majority of residents complied immediately and eventually all did. The residents were asked to gather in the building’s bayside lobby where a head count was taken. Then, some evacuated to family or friends’ homes, some went to the Atlantic City casinos and others to the Port O Call Hotel.
Most of the residents drove themselves, but several were given lifts by police, fire and emergency personnel.
“There was a lot of professionalism on the part of the first responders and on the part of (Gardens Plaza General Manager) Dave Bennett. Everyone treated us with respect,” Whiteside said.
On Tuesday, while the displaced relaxed at their alternative lodging spots, City building officials toured the building and the GP staff began some of the initial steps of what could be a massive clean-up effort.
Residents were permitted to go into their units to retrieve any needed articles on Tuesday and Wednesday. Power and water were shut off on Tuesday as crews made repairs to the standpipe. On Wednesday, power was back on the first floor, which houses the lobby, building offices, a break room, a maintenance room, a trash room and the boiler system.
Bennett said on Wednesday his staff would be assessing damage in the individual units and that he hoped for power to be restored on a floor-by floor basis, possibly as early as tomorrow on some floors.
“Nobody likes to be inconvenienced, but things happen sometimes,” Whiteside said. “This too shall pass.”