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Aug 28, 2011 11:55 AM by Chris Welty

Irene Makes Landfall on Quiet, Anxious NYC

NEW YORK (AP) - Rainfall overflowed sewers and seawater lapped
at sidewalks at the edges of New York City from densely populated
lower Manhattan to the far reaches of Queens as a weakening Irene
made landfall over Coney Island early Sunday.
Sections of the thoroughfares on the east and west edges of
Manhattan were closed. Cars were stranded on the street with water
up to the wheels. One of two tubes of the Holland Tunnel, one of
the main conduits between the borough and New Jersey, was closed
because of flooding, authorities said.
Ocean water streamed into the main streets of the Rockaways, a
peninsula in Queens that Mayor Michael Bloomberg had ordered
evacuated. In Brooklyn, Coney Island streets were also under water.
But the city was already starting to move past the storm. The
Sept. 11 Memorial and Museum sent a Twitter message that read:
"None of the memorial trees were lost."
A little past 9 a.m., the wind ebbed, the rain stopped and
residents of Brooklyn's Brighton Beach section came out of their
homes to look at the pounding Atlantic surf.
Overhead, to the west, there was a patch of blue sky.
"Nature is freaky, isn't it?" Lisa Taub said. Then she pointed
at a man who had taken off his shirt and was waving his arms, as if
warming up for a swim: "If this guy goes in the water, he's
crazy."
Irene weakened after landfall over the North Carolina coast
Saturday, but it was still a massive storm with sustained winds of
up to 65 mph as it hit the city. Coinciding with a tide that was
higher than normal, water levels were expected to rise as much as 8
feet.
Power was already out for hundreds of thousands of customers
around the city and on New York's Long Island.
A possible storm surge on the fringes of 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, forecasters said.
Officials feared water lapping at Wall Street, ground zero and the
luxury high-rise apartments of Battery Park City. A tornado warning
was briefly issued for the boroughs of Brooklyn and Queens early
Sunday.
Battery Park City in lower Manhattan was virtually deserted as
rain and gusty winds pummeled streets and whipped trees.
Resident Colin Mahoney was one of a handful of people in his
building to defy the evacuation order and ride out the storm.
"I'm from New England. We do storms there," Mahoney said as he
walked along the Hudson River promenade in the pouring rain.
But, he added, "The mayor did the right thing. He had to."
Building supervisors who stayed behind kept busy preparing for
possible damage.
"We unplugged the drains and we fastened anything loose or
removed it," said Malachy Darcy, the supervisors at 17 Battery
Place, a 36-floor building facing the New York Harbor.
Darcy went to check the headwall across the street which would
hold back any water surge, hoping it would hold back water.
In Times Square, shops boarded up windows and sandbags were
stacked outside of stores. Construction at the World Trade Center
site came to a standstill. But taxi cabs were open for business as
some residents donned rain gear and headed outside to check the
weather or to head home after hotel shifts.
"I have to work. I would lose too much money," said cabbie
Dwane Imame, who said he worked through the night. "There have
been many people. I have been surprised. They are crazy to be out
in this weather."
Bloomberg ordered more than 370,000 people out of low-lying
areas, mostly in lower Manhattan, Brooklyn and Queens. Only 9,600
people checked into shelters and an untold number defied the order.
Many New Yorkers took the evacuation in stride. Some streaked
through Times Square. Others planned hurricane 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.
All subway, bus and commuter rail service was shuttered so
officials could get equipment safely away from flooding, downed
trees or other damage. It took several hours to shut down Saturday
and will take an unknown amount of time to get running again,
raising concern about Monday's commute.
Boilers and elevators also 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 also shut off their elevators and air conditioners.
Others had generators ready to go.
Con Edison, the city's biggest utility, was considering cutting
off power to about 17,000 people at the southern tip of Manhattan
to protect its equipment if Irene pushed seawater over a floodwall
and swamped the area. But spokeswoman Sarah Banda said Sunday that
Con Ed was cautiously optimistic it wouldn't have to take that
step.
The New York Stock Exchange is in Lower Manhattan, but it 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.
It could take days for power to be restored. The subway system,
which carries 5 million passengers on an average weekend, wasn't
expected to restart until Monday at the earliest.
As Irene passes by, tides are higher than usual. The phenomenon
adds about a half a foot to high tides, said Stephen Gill, a
scientist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
The storm surge was likely to be as much as 4 to 8 feet.
A hurricane warning was issued for the city for the first time
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.
The area's three major airports - LaGuardia, Kennedy and Newark
Liberty - were closed. With the subways closed, many were left to
hail taxis. To encourage cab-sharing and speed the evacuation,
passengers were charged not by the mile but by how many different
fare "zones" their trip crossed.

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