ATLANTIC CITY – Tom and Patty Bock were playing slots at Tropicana Casino and Resort when something caught their eyes.
“We saw some workers just booking it across the floor. You could see it in their eyes something was really wrong,” Patty Bock said.
The Bocks tried to leave for home in East Hampton, N.Y., but could go nowhere.
Tropicana’s self-park garage was closed, roadblocks surrounded the casino hotel complex, and the casino’s 604-room West Tower hotel was evacuated.
While hotel housekeepers clad in black and white gathered on a Morris Avenue sidewalk, grim-faced dealers stayed inside to deal cards and spin roulette balls to the few customers still gambling.
Rock ‘n’ roll tunes played through overhead speakers as word spread through the casino of the horrific construction accident outside.
“We were playing, and I heard this low rumble, and I said, ‘What the hell is that?'” said Doris Cohen, of Blackwood. “It was more than a vibration – it was like a train went underneath us.”
“I went to check out,” said her husband, Stanley, “and they gave me back the (room) keys. I guess we’re not going anywhere for a while.”
Hotel clerks appeared to be offering inconvenienced guests a free night in Tropicana’s 1,000 unaffected South Tower and North Tower hotel rooms.
“We’re asking for everyone’s patience and understanding,” Tropicana spokeswoman Maureen Siman said.
One West Tower occupant who witnessed the garage collapse below wept upon reuniting with a friend she found seated at a slot machine.
“I heard this sound and ran to the window and saw everything,” said the woman, who declined to give her name. “I don’t even want to talk about it. I’m a nervous wreck. I’m just glad I found my friend.”
Downstairs at Firewaters bar, patrons stared at two big screen televisions showing live news coverage of the calamity one block away.
“I’m an assistant fire chief, and this gives me goose bumps watching this,” Tom Bock said.
Casino security repeatedly turned away customers attempting to cross Tropicana’s elevated Pacific Avenue walkway – the gateway to the West Tower hotel and the 3,100- space self-park garage on which it sits.
The West Tower and self-park garage were unhurt by the new garage accident but had to be closed while workers secured an adjacent sheer concrete wall that was left standing alone after the collapse, said Dennis Gomes, president of resort operations for Tropicana parent Aztar Corp.
Authorities told Tropicana that the hotel tower could reopen today and the self-park garage could reopen either today or Saturday, Gomes said.
Hundreds of cars remained in the self-park garage Thursday night.
“There’s surface parking behind the Ritz. Also, some people are parking at the Hilton and walking over,” a Tropicana phone receptionist told callers.