Huffpost New York

NYC Hurricane: New Yorkers Await Irene's Arrival

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NEW YORK (AP) -- The normally bustling streets emptied out and the rumble of the subways came to a stop.

New York buttoned up Saturday against Hurricane Irene, which threatened to paralyze Wall Street and give the big city its worst thrashing from a storm since at least the 1980s.

City officials cautioned that if Irene stayed on track, it could bring gusts of 85 mph overnight that could shatter skyscraper windows. They said there was an outside chance that a storm surge in Lower Manhattan could send seawater streaming into the maze of underground vaults that hold the city's cables and pipes, knocking out power to thousands and crippling the nation's financial capital.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg ordered the first mandatory evacuation ever in New York. More than 370,000 people were told to be out by 5 p.m. from low-lying areas on the fringes of the city, mostly in Lower Manhattan, Brooklyn and Queens.

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Many New Yorkers seemed to take it in stride, staying off the streets and hunkering down. Some planned hurricane get-togethers and hot tub parties.

"We already have the wine and beer, and now we're getting the vodka," said Martin Murphy, a video artist who was shopping at a liquor store near Central Park with his girlfriend.

"If it lasts, we have dozens of movies ready, and we'll play charades and we're going to make cards that say, 'We survived Irene,'" he said.

All subway service was suspended because of the threat of flooding in the tunnels -- the first time the nation's biggest transit system has shut down because of a natural disaster. Sandbags and tarps were placed on or around subway grates.

"Heed the warnings," Bloomberg said, his shirt getting soaked as the rain fell in Coney Island. "It isn't cute to say, 'I'm tougher than any storm.' I hope this is not necessary, but it's certainly prudent."

People arrived in a trickle at a shelter set up at a high school in the Park Slope section of Brooklyn. Some carried garbage bags filled with clothing; others pushed carts loaded with their belongings.

They were evacuated from a public housing project in Brooklyn's Red Hook section. Tenants said management got them to leave by telling them the water and power would be shut off at 5 p.m.

"For us, it's him," said Victor Valderrama, pointing to his 3-year-old son. "I didn't want to take a chance with my son."

In Times Square, shops boarded up windows, put sandbags outside entrances and the street performer known as the Naked Cowboy, who stands at the Crossroads of the World wearing only underwear and a guitar, had a life vest on.

Construction came to a standstill across the city, and workers at the World Trade Center site dismantled a crane and secured equipment. The mayor said there would be no effect on the opening of the Sept. 11 memorial on the 10th anniversary of the terrorist attacks.

Con Edison brought in hundreds of extra utility workers from around the country. While the foot of Manhattan is protected by a seawall and a network of pumps, Con Ed vice president John Mucci said the utility stood ready to turn off the power to about 6,500 customers there in the event of severe flooding.

Mucci said it could take up to three days to restore the power if the cables became drenched with saltwater, which can be particularly damaging.

The New York Stock Exchange has backup generators and can run on its own, a spokesman said.

Con Ed also shut down about 10 miles of steam pipes underneath the city to prevent explosions if they came in contact with cold water. The shutdown affected 50 commercial and residential customers around the city who use the pipes for heat, hot water and air conditioning.

Irene came ashore in North Carolina on Saturday morning, slightly weakened but still powerful, and was expected to roll up the densely populated Interstate 95 corridor. More than 8.3 million people live in New York City, and nearly 29 million in the metropolitan area.

A hurricane warning was issued for the city Friday afternoon, the first since Gloria in September 1985. That storm blew ashore on Long Island with winds of 85 mph and caused millions of dollars in damage, along with one death in New York.

While Bloomberg strongly cautioned against staying put, he also said no one was going door-to-door to force residents out. And many apparently chose not to go.

The city opened more than 90 evacuation shelters with room for about 70,000 people. But by early evening, only about 5,500 had checked in, officials said.

The evacuation order went unheeded by many tenants at a large public housing complex in Brooklyn.

"Oh, forget Bloomberg. We ain't going anywhere," said Evelyn Burrus, 60. "Go to some shelter with a bunch of strangers and bedbugs? No way."

The area's three major airports -- LaGuardia, Kennedy and Newark Liberty -- closed at noon to arriving flights. Departing flights were to be shut down by 10 p.m.

Subway trains began grinding to a halt at noon.

The transit system won't reopen until at least Monday, after pumps remove water from flooded stations. The subways routinely flood during even ordinary storms and have to be pumped out.

The city's transit system carries about 5 million passengers on an average weekday. The last time it was seriously hobbled was an August 2007 rainstorm that disabled or delayed every one of the city's subway lines. It was also shut down after the 9/11 attacks and during a 2005 strike.

Many New Yorkers were left to hail taxis. To encourage cab-sharing and speed the evacuation, taxis switched to zone fares, meaning passengers were charged not for the mileage on the meter but according to which section of the city they were going to.

Boilers and elevators were shut down in public housing in evacuation areas to encourage tenants to leave and to prevent people from getting stuck in elevators if the power went out.

Some hotels were shutting off their elevators and air conditioners. Others had generators ready to go.

Dozens of buses arrived at the Brooklyn Cyclones minor league ballpark in Coney Island to help residents get out. Nursing homes and hospitals were emptied.

At a shelter set up at a high school in the Long Island town of Brentwood, Alexander Ho calmly ate a sandwich in the cafeteria. Ho left his first-floor apartment in East Islip, even though it is several blocks from the water, just outside the mandatory evacuation zone.

"Objects outside can be projected as missiles," he said. "I figured my apartment didn't seem as safe as I thought, as every room has a window."
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Associated Press Writers Amy Westfeldt, Verena Dobnik, Tom Hays, Meghan Barr, David B. Caruso, Colleen Long and Deepti Hajela in New York contributed to this report.

AP reports:

MONTPELIER, Vt. (AP) -- The full measure of Hurricane Irene's fury came into focus Monday as the death toll jumped to 38, New England towns battled epic floods and millions faced the dispiriting prospect of several days without electricity.

Full story here.

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Southampton Patch posts aerial photos of erosion suffered by Hamptons beaches. The photos can be viewed here.

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@ GOOD : Irene wasn't overhyped: It's already the fourth deadliest storm in the last 30 years. http://t.co/VZvHYc5

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@ ErnestScheyder : Swimming officially banned at all NYC's beaches after #irene as storm swept a lot of #sewage into waterways. #dogdaysofsummer

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According to Associated Press, 35 deaths have been confirmed in 10 states. Update here.

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@ robmarcianoCNN : Still no power at my folks place in CT. Mom says last night was their first candle light dinner in decades.

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@ NYCMayorsOffice : Most NYC animal shelters resuming services. Adopt a #ShelterPet from @NYCACC or @Bideawee or by searching @ShelterPets. #IrenePets

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The animation below, taken from 48 hours of images from NASA's GOES-13 satellite between August 27 and August 29, shows Irene passing over New York and New England and entering Canada.

NASA/NOAA GOES Project, Dennis Chesters

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Democracy Now! reports:

Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin joins us for an update from Vermont, where nearly every community is surrounded by hills and valleys, with small streams feeding into rivers. Shumlin notes that since he was sworn into office seven months ago, "this is the second major disaster as a result of storms. We had storms this spring that flooded our downtowns and put us through many of the same exercises that we’re going through right now. We didn’t used to get weather patterns like this in Vermont. The point is, we in the colder states are going to see the results of climate change first."

Read the report here.

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The Associated Press reports:

CHESTER, Vt. — Officials say more than a dozen towns in Vermont and at least three in New York are cut off, with roads and bridges washed out by flooding caused by the remnants of Hurricane Irene.

Chris Cole of Vermont's Agency of Transportation says Monday that towns in the central and southern part of the state have been isolated by the storm.

In New York, the towns of Keene in the Adirondacks, and Windham and Phoenicia in the Catskills are effectively isolated by damage to roads and bridges.

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Expert forecasters misjudged the severity of Irene as it barreled toward the East Coast of the United States late last week. It weakened considerably by the time it hit New York.

Although some have claimed the Mayor, and Governor Cuomo, who ordered the city's subways be shut down Saturday, overreacted to Irene, the resounding general consensus is that the Mayor's 'better safe than sorry' strategy was one that worked for New York.

Read more here.

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Watch Gov. Cuomo's live briefing here.

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Reisterstown Patch reports:

More than 450,000 households in Maryland remained without power 35 hours after peak rain and winds from Hurricane Irene hit the state, and the Baltimore area could experience outages until Friday, officials said Monday.

More here.

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Princeton Patch reports that Princeton EMT Michael Kenwood died early Sunday after braving Hurricane Irene floods during a water rescue. More here.

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Cranford, New Jersey Patch reports:

Cranford officials have asked the state of New Jersey and PSE&G to give Cranford "priority status" as residents begin the daunting task of asessing the damage to their homes and cleaning the mess left in Hurrican Irene's wake.

Mayor Dan Aschenbach spent the majority of his time late Sunday and Monday touring the township to assist with cleanup and rescue efforts.

Read the full story here.

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In the aftermath of Hurricane Irene, HuffPost has compiled video footage from the disaster.

In the video below, a car floats down the river in Bennington, Vermont:

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Middleton, Connecticut Patch reports that Illiano's Pizzeria remained open on Sunday, and managed to serve hundreds of pizzas, despite the fact that they had lost power.

Read the story here.

Video courtesy of Darrell Lucas WATCH:

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Follow Hurricane Irene's path along the East Coast with this interactive map.

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Submit your photos to HuffPost's Irene slideshow.

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Ossining-Croton Patch's Christopher Michael McHugh reports on a rafting trip during the storm that ended in disaster.

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From AP:

Utility crews scrambled to restore power after Hurricane Irene raked across the Eastern Seaboard. But even with help from thousands of out-of-state repair crews, power companies say it may be days before some people see the lights back on.

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@ nickconfessore : Raw footage of @NYGovCuomo's first aerial survey of #irene damage via @stateofpolitics. More footage later. http://t.co/yxVHleC

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From HuffPost's John Celock:

The Army Corps of Engineers will be touring the Somerset County, NJ communities of Bound Brook and Manville today. Both communities were hit with flooding in the aftermath of Hurricane Irene. Both towns have a history of flooding, including during after Hurricane Floyd hit New Jersey in 1999.

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We asked, and you responded. Here's a sample of what Huffington Post readers saw during and after Irene.

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@ NYCMayorsOffice : Hundreds of Con Ed crews are on the streets working to restore service to about 38,000 NYC customers currently without #power.

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The New York Times describes the scene in a school gym shelter over the weekend:

The sleepover was an international scene. Guests spoke English, Spanish, Mandarin, Russian and Farsi.

Lying on a cot next to her mother and her aunt, Kimia Shahandeh, 25, studied for the Test of English as a Foreign Language, or Toefl, and dipped in and out of “Funny in Farsi,” a memoir by an Iranian immigrant to the United States. Azadeh Lassman, Ms. Shahandeh’s aunt, chatted in Farsi with her sister and tore up pieces of paper to make a deck of cards.

Read the full story here.

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The Associated Press reports:

NEW YORK -- Wireless networks fell quiet Sunday in some coastal areas of North Carolina and southern Virginia, but calls were going through in most areas affected by Tropical Storm Irene, the Federal Communications Commission said.

In Lenoir, Greene and Carteret counties of North Carolina, 50 percent to 90 percent of cell towers went offline, said Rear Adm. Jamie Barnett, head of the public safety bureau of the Federal Communications Commission.

More here.

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@ breakingirene : Vermont State Police confirm second death in Wilmington area following devastating flooding - Burlington Free Press http://t.co/xM7Y9AM

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The Brattleboro Reformer provides a video slideshow of images from around Windham County, Vermont.

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Boston.com/Boston Globe report:

@ BostonUpdate : Irene's 1st fatality in Mass; public works employee in Southbridge electrocuted by downed power line at home http://t.co/ZLYC7BZ #MAIrene

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Around the Web

New York Region Prepares for Hurricane Irene - NYTimes.com

Hurricane Irene: New York City Direct Hit? - ABC News

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Filed by Jonah Green