The thieves started down Mermaid Avenue Tuesday morning as the chest-high water receded, turning the seaside community known for its hotdogs and tourist attractions into a lawless free-for-all.
“People were running in and out of Rent-A-Center carrying these big flat screens. They were holding on tight,” said witness Aisha John, 20. “I couldn’t understand how someone could steal a big TV in broad daylight, but no one cared.”
She said people were running out of a nearby Rite Aid with bags of diapers and wipes.
“Look, they’ve been looting our wallets for too long,” said a young male who claimed he helped himself to a TV at the Rent-A-Center.
“It’s about time we start taking this sh—back,” the youth, who identified himself as Jesse James, told the Daily News.
“It was complete lawlessness,” said Ron Troyano, owner of Joann’s Discount Wine and Liquors on Mermaid Ave.
He said looters used tools to bust through his steel security gates around 11:30 a.m. Tuesday.
The thieves then shattered his storefront and helped themselves to thousands of dollars worth of top shelf liquor, he said.
“They pried open the gate, broke the glass and went straight for the Hennessy and Grey Goose,” he said.
Police got a measure of control around 4 p.m. Tuesday, but two cops positioned outside Joann’s into the night failed to stop more looters from sneaking in through the roof, Troyano told The News.
“They broke right in through the roof while the cops were standing outside. It’s unbelievable. They were passing bottles down to each other from the roof,” he said.
“We are supposed to come together as a community during times of crisis, not pick at each other like vultures,” he said. “Next time I’m getting a gun.”
Looters also hit The Fresh Market five blocks down.
“They destroyed everything. They stole anything they could get their hands on. Someone even ran off with the cash register,” said employee Fernando Mendoza as he picked up pieces of broken glass Wednesday.
“It was a mob of people. Fifty to a hundred. They were just running down the street grabbing anything that wasn’t nailed down,” he said.
“They were literally walking out with shopping carts full of merchandise. They didn’t even look worried,” a Rite Aid employee who declined to give her name told The News.