George Rumero of Point Pleasant Boro puffed on a smoke as he stood outside, just as Hurricane Irene blew through. Every so often, he squinted his eyes.
Outside the shelter at Point Boro High School, the wind was pushing his face. The raindrops were like tiny pellets, poking at his eyes.
Rumero could have stayed with his dad, rather than lay on a cot in the cold music room, waiting out the night.
But with trees bending from their roots, and wind howling at the windows, Rumero knew better. For him, and for so many others at local shelters, this was better than home.
"I'm much safer here," he said. "A tree won't fall on me."
In the Jersey Shore, many were choosing the solidly standing, bricks-and-mortar schools over their own comfy beds. Staying at home, they said, provided little comfort.
Indeed, shelters at and became full overnight. became an accessible shelter; but If the 120 cots were to fill, evacuees would have to find room in classrooms.
Wall High School, meanwhile, was . Late Saturday, Police Chief Robert Brice said the high school, one of three emergency shelters set up throughout the county, was already at capacity.
In , residents from the bayfront and mobile home parks in Barnegat and Waretown are sharing tables and floor space with Atlantic City evacuees as they wait out Hurricane Irene at Brackman Middle School this weekend.
Point Boro had about 30 beds, but barely half were full around 10:30 p.m. Saturday. Explorer scouts who came to assist said the number of visitors reached about 30 earlier, right around the time the baked ziti was served.
Some who did come said they were "poor" and too embarrassed to give their names. They stay at a local motel on a typical night, but they, too, saw the shelter as the better option.
At 10:30 p.m., Explorer scouts stood nearby, directing the visitors to the metal trays that had cold ziti. To them, they were nice and polite, encouraging them to eat before it got too late.
Others, like Rumero, typed on computers - enjoying free wifi - and avoided the food and the cots, choosing instead to tool around on a keyboard and go about their business.
Rumero admitted that he could have done that at home. He knew that the chances of something bad happening - even in a Jersey Shore community where flooding is a risk - were smaller than what was hyped.
Point Boro had evacuations, but the Manasquan River did not pose the same risk to the town that the ocean did to neighboring Point Pleasant Beach. There, at 8 p.m., the waves rushed up to the dune fences, washing the beach away.
But with winds gusting past 50 mph, Rumero said, any risk was not worth taking.
"This is the place to be," he said. "I have everything here for me."