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Hurricane Irene Passes New York, MTA Officials Scramble To Reset Commute (UPDATE)

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NEW YORK -- New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg says residents who had been ordered out of their homes in low-lying areas will be allowed to return Sunday afternoon. "The worst is over," the mayor said, "and we will soon move to restore and return mode."

Bloomberg says the evacuation order put in place for Hurricane Irene will be lifted as of 3 p.m. He had ordered more than 370,000 people out of those areas. They were mostly in lower Manhattan, Brooklyn and Queens. He said that 9,000 people were evacuated into evacuation centers.

Not everyone waited, and people had already started making their way back to their homes. Some defied the order and didn't evacuate in the first place.

At a press conference Sunday the mayor praised city employees and volunteers for keeping the city running during the hurricane watch. Mayor Bloomberg said there were no reported deaths or serious injuries, and that on Saturday night, only 45 people were arrested, down 300 from the average 345 on a normal Saturday.

Bloomberg also pointed out that all the cranes were secured at WTC and the memorial is on schedule for opening on 9/11.

As for Monday's commute, MTA chief Jay Walder says it's a long road ahead before NYC gets back to work.

Walder says that the city is beginning to assess the damage to the city and transit system. Metro North sustained the most damage, and will take the longest to reinstate. (CHECK OUT PICTURES OF NEW YORK'S FLOODED AREAS).

UPDATE: The New York Times reports that subway service should return by Monday morning:

The New York City subway, whose closing in the lead-up to Tropical Storm Irene was perhaps the most unsettling element of a prodigious storm preparation effort, is set to reopen on a limited schedule in time for the Monday morning commute, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said Sunday evening.

The Office of Emergency Management noted a few exceptions, however:

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-3 trains will operate between 137th Street/City College and New Lots Avenue; Substitute bus service will be provided between Harlem 148th Street and 135th Street connecting with the 2 train.
-C trains suspended; A trains will make all local stops from 207th St. to Lefferts Blvd.​
-No service in the Rockaways. (Rockaway Blvd. to Far Rockaway and Rockaway Park)
-6 trains runs local in the Bronx
-7 trains run local
-S Franklin Avenue Shuttle (FAS) Suspended
-N trains terminate at Kings Highway. Shuttle bus service between Kings Highway and Stillwell Terminal.

Getting the MTA up to speed is a "step-wise process" that involves MTA employees walking along lines to make sure they are safe, Walder said. MTA employees are pumping waterlogged tracks and looking to get people and equipment back. And beyond the damage, the logistical challenge of returning trains to their proper place will take time. Walder says there are virtually no trains currently in Brooklyn since they had to be rerouted before the storm.

The first system to reboot will be the city's bus system, Walder said.

Officials gave no timetable for when the subways would be back to normal. "This is a difficult process," Walder said. "There is damage...It will take some time." The Wall Street Journal reports that restoring full subway service could happen as late as Tuesday.

While it only took 8 hours to shut down the MTA, it takes much longer to revive it. Walder defended the actions of the MTA. "The actions that we took yesterday were right."

The mayor added, "Nobody likes to inconvenience people, but human lives are more important."

UPDATE II: All three regional airports will reopen Monday morning.