By Eun Kyung Kim, TODAY contributor
Atlantic City mayor Lorenzo Langford escalated tensions with New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie after the mayor said Tuesday he would welcome the chance “to confront the governor mano y mano” over how he handled the city’s evacuation during Hurricane Sandy.
A day earlier, Christie had criticized Langford as a “rogue mayor” for supposedly encouraging residents to ride out the storm in designated shelters rather than leave the area entirely.
He told TODAY’s Matt Lauer on Tuesday that Atlantic City residents received mixed messages from his executive order requiring everyone to evacuate and Langford’s encouragement to take cover instead.
“I feel badly for the folks in Atlantic City who listened to him and sheltered in Atlantic City, and I guess my anger has turned to sympathy for those folks, and we’re in the midst now of trying to go in and save them,” Christie said.
Langford strongly denied the characterization of what happened, saying the governor was “either misinformed and ill-advised, or simply just deciding to prevaricate.”
“I’m telling you that is absolutely false and the governor needs to be challenged,” he said. “Where did he get that information? He is dead wrong.”
Officials estimate that as much as 80 percent of Atlantic City was under water at high tide Monday during the brunt of the storm. Water as much as eight feet deep surged through the streets. Christie said both state and federal search and rescue teams arrived on site early Tuesday morning to help those stranded in their homes or at shelter sites.
Langford accused Christie of turning the situation into a political battle.
“Here we are in throes of a major catastrophe and the governor has chosen a time such as this to play politics. I think it’s reprehensible that he would stoop to the level to try and make a political situation out of something that is so serious as this situation,” he said.
During a news conference Monday, Christie said Langford encouraged residents to take shelter at designated sites because he “didn’t want his people leaving the city.”
“I don’t have a feud with the guy, but I wish he’d do his job," he said at the time. He also tweeted, “I am very disappointed in those who did not listen to my order to evacuate.”
Langford refuted the charge, saying most Atlantic City residents did evacuate, as ordered.
"Unfortunately, there will always be those who did not heed that warning," he said. "We had a plan in place for those few residents who would decide at the last minute that they would not try to heed our warning and vacate the city but would try to hunker down, tough it out, only to find at some other time that they wanted to flee. We had that contingency plan in place."
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