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Sunday, August 28, 2011

New York Outsmarts/ Beats Irene! Bloomberg's Great Planning! 18 Deaths Thus Far

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Irene fails to wow New Yorkers

Tropical Storm Irene's swipe at the Big Apple proved Sunday that New Yorkers can be a tough crowd to impress.

"I slept through the whole thing," said James Trager, a writer who watched nature's display of fury as it took place outside the windows of his apartment in Midtown and gave a tepid review: "Nothing. It's exaggerated."

"I think we're all surprised how relatively quickly the storm blew through here and the rain stopped," said Steve Kastenbaum, a national correspondent for CNN radio, who watched the storm from the comfort of his apartment in the Boerum Hill section of Brooklyn.

He said he saw lots of local street flooding and branches in the streets, but few uprooted trees; during the height of the storm, people were walking on the street. "I even saw one or two folks taking a jog," he said. "I kid you not. Pretty typical for Brooklyn. They're not going to let anybody get in their way."

While the initial effects of the storm were less harsh than anticipated, officials said they were still concerned about flooding from heavy rains that could affect electrical systems and other infrastructure that is largely underground in New York.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo said it was not yet clear when subways, Metro North trains and Long Island Railroad lines would reopen. "The conditions are still too dangerous. We can't put people on bridges; we can't put people in tunnels," he told CNN affiliate WCBS. "Once we get a full assessment, we will give people an idea of when the system will come online."

He praised New Yorkers for taking the storm in stride. "When we have our darkest hours, New Yorkers shine their brightest, and I think this is one of those times."

But the possibility of worse occurring away from the shore was weighing on National Hurricane Center Director Bill Read. "The biggest concern, now that (Irene's) gone inland, is heavy rain, flash floods" and wind damage, he told CNN. Once inland, hurricanes "start falling apart pretty fast," he said. "Eventually, it will exit out into Canada."

"Overall, I think we've gotten through this," Joseph Bruno, commissioner of emergency management for the city, told reporters in Brooklyn, where the skies were bright. He said the hardest-hit areas were from Coney Island in Brooklyn to the Rockaway area of Queens. "We have 50,000 people without power. That's pretty good in a city of this size. So, we did well, but we prepared well, also."

"Nothing really that bad happened," said Sarah Sargenti, who spent Saturday night in a friend's walkup apartment in Soho rather than risk getting stuck without elevator service in her 23rd-floor apartment near the financial district. "A lot of wind and rain."

Lt. Gen. Russel Honore, a CNN contributor who was involved in a leadership role in the recovery efforts in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina hit in 2005, described Sunday's hurricane as a six out of 10, with 10 representing Katrina.

About 30 miles north of the city, in Westchester County's Sleepy Hollow, near the Tappan Zee Bridge over the Hudson, Tom Sobolik was out early Sunday at the Philipse Manor Beach Club.

Though the bridge was shut to traffic, "the boats here are all fine," the photographer said. "Nobody had any problem."

On Saturday night, he attended a hurricane party in his neighborhood to discuss the brewing storm. "Everybody just went over how they prepared and how it was going to be a waste," he said. "It turned out to be largely true. The media blew this all out of proportion."

It did not flood the 9/11 memorial site in Manhattan, as many had worried it might.

Still, the storm left quite a wake -- sending water from the East River and the Hudson River over their banks for a brief period on Sunday morning and into New York City.

The water also led officials to close for a brief time the north tube of the Holland Tunnel, from Lower Manhattan to New Jersey.

Earlier, authorities had halted public transportation, closed bridges and tunnels and buttoned up ports, essentially locking down the city of more than 8 million people as Hurricane Irene began to lash the city with wind and rain.

And New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg urged some 370,000 people to evacuate their residences in low-lying areas.

In the Long Island community of Long Beach, massive berms were breached by 8 a.m., with water pushing northward into town. The water yanked a lifeguard building from its foundation on the beach and streets were flooded.

Bloomberg ordered evacuations for Long Beach Island, including Atlantic Beach, Lido Beach and Point Lookout.

The mandatory evacuations, which also affected parts of Manhattan, Queens, Brooklyn, the Bronx and Staten Island, were a first in the city's history, he said.

CNN iReporter and Queens resident Anne Egan, who was watching events unfold from her house three doors down from the beach wall, said she disregarded the evacuation order because she was afraid of looters. "You can see the waves breaking on (the beach wall)," she said. "I was a little panicked approaching high tide, which was about 7:30 a.m. But now that the peak of high tide has passed us, I'm not as nervous. The waves are just huge out there."

More than 905,334 people were without power in New York early Sunday afternoon, authorities said.

In Brooklyn, Seunh Hong watched in despair as the water in his shop's basement rose to his knees.

"Way worse than I'd expected," he said. "It is absolutely horrible. Afterwards we have to spend lot of time and money, (and) energy for fixing them up."

Many in New York began preparing days ago for the arrival of Irene, stocking up on essentials.

By late Saturday, most stores, restaurants and bars were closed.

The bread shelves were bare early Sunday at the Associated Supermarket on Manhattan's Upper West Side, according to Aaron Herman, who said more than 1,000 people had stopped in Saturday to buy the "essentials."

By then, the streets were largely deserted. "For a city that never sleeps, it's clearly taking a nap," Herman said.

Irene charges into New England, NYC escapes worst

Irene charged into New England on Sunday as it weakened to a tropical storm after racing across a shuttered New York City and leaving behind a stunned U.S. East coast where at least 18 people died, severe flooding was widespread and 4 million homes and businesses lost power.

As waves continued pounding the Connecticut shore east of America's biggest city, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg lifted the evacuation order for residents in low-lying areas.

New England residents were now feeling the brunt of the diminished but still-dangerous storm, which will cause flooding and winds that could topple many towering trees anchored in soil already saturated by earlier heavy rains. The storm was centered about 65 miles south of Rutland, Vermont at about 5 p.m. EDT, and it was moving north-northeast at about 26 mph.

Forecasters expect it to reach Canada later Sunday or early Monday. Irene, while diminished in strength, was still massive and powerful, carrying sustained winds of 50 mph after its long journey up the East Coast, where it dropped a foot of rain on North Carolina and Virginia. The National Hurricane Center downgraded the storm after its winds fell below 74 mph, the threshold for a hurricane.

As the eye of the sprawling storm blew through America's largest city and Long Island to the east, it pushed an 8-foot Atlantic storm surge toward New York and sent salty floodwater flowing into lower Manhattan.

As of 10:30 a.m., more than 900,000 homes and businesses in New York state were without power, authorities said.

Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said President Barack Obama was briefed Sunday morning and instructed administration officials to continue to be aggressive in their efforts to deal with the storm and its aftermath. Napolitano said the worst of the storm has passed for most areas, but she cautioned communities still in Irene's path should continue to be vigilant even though the storm had weakened.

She told a news conference that pre-storm preparations dramatically reduced the loss of life but warned that river flooding across the eastern seaboard continued to pose hazards for the public.

65 million people affected

Forecasters said early Sunday that Irene was moving to the north-northeast at 26 mph as it pushed into New England. Officials also warned that isolated tornadoes were possible in the northeast.

The huge storm had threatened 65 million people up and down the Atlantic coast, estimated as the largest number of Americans ever affected by a single storm.

The 18 deaths related to Irene included two children, an 11-year-old boy in Virginia killed when a tree crashed into his home and a North Carolina child who died in a car crash at an intersection where traffic lights were out. Four other people were killed by falling trees or tree limbs — two in separate Virginia incidents, one in North Carolina and one in Maryland. A surfer and another beach-goer in Florida were killed in heavy waves.

The latest fatalities were reported in Pennsylvania.

In Vermont a woman was swept away by the Deerfield River, and is presumed dead, though no body has been found, according to the Burlington Free Press.

A New Jersey firefighter was in critical condition after injuries sustained when he was attempting a water rescue. New Jersey's Gov. Christie stated at a press briefing that the first responder had died. His office said later that the governor had received erroneous information.

Recovery mode

New York City was eerily quiet. In a city where many people don't own cars, the population stayed indoors. The entire transit system was shut down because of weather for the first time ever. All of the city's airports were closed. Broadway shows, baseball games and other events were all canceled or postponed.

But in a briefing Sunday afternoon, Mayor Michael Bloomberg indicated that the city was moving into recovery mode.

He said there were no known deaths or injuries caused by Irene in New York City.

"The good news is the worst is over," Bloomberg said.

"As we anticipated, the storm surge has caused serious flooding across the five boroughs, including here in Lower Manhattan, where the East and Hudson Rivers are flowing over their banks and into the parks and low-lying streets at the water's edge," said Bloomberg. "We did have substantial erosion at the Staten Island beaches and in the Rockaways, where the waves breached 94th Street between 127th and 132nd Streets."

He said the city government would reopen on Monday, despite some damage to city government buildings. The stock exchange and other financial institutions are slated to reopen on time Monday morning as well.

For many people, however, getting to work would remain a problem until the subway and other transit systems were back up and running.

Bloomberg praised the residents of New York for their cooperation in the face of the hurricane. Despite dire predictions, he said there were just 45 arrests overnight, compared to an average of 345 on a normal Saturday night in the city.

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie said in an interview on NBC's "Meet the Press" that the storm covered half of the state and 250 roads were closed due to flooding and downed trees.

Christie said he expects damages from Irene to be costly along the Atlantic coast and from inland river flooding.

"I've got to imagine that the damage estimates are going to be in the billions of dollars, if not in the tens of billions of dollars," Christie said.

Newspaper stands float down NYC streets

Briny water from New York Harbor submerged parts of a promenade at the base of Manhattan. A foot of water rushed over the wall of a marina in front of the New York Mercantile Exchange, where gold and oil are traded.

"You could see newspaper stands floating down the street," said Scott Baxter, a hotel doorman in the SoHo neighborhood.

As the center of the storm passed over Central Park at midmorning, floodwater reached the wheel wells of some stranded cars in Manhattan, and more streamed into the streets of Queens.

Still, the storm didn't come close to inflicting the kind of catastrophic damage that had been feared in the city. The Sept. 11 museum, a centerpiece of the rebuilding of the World Trade Center site, said on Twitter that none of its memorial trees were lost.

Forecasters had said there was a chance a storm surge on the fringes of Lower Manhattan along New York Harbor could send sea water streaming into the maze of underground vaults that hold the city's cables and pipes, knocking out power to thousands and crippling the city. Officials' feared water would slosh into Wall Street, the ground zero location of the former Twin Towers and the luxury high-rise apartments of Battery Park City.

Battery Park City in the extreme south of Manhattan island was virtually deserted as rain and gusty winds pummeled streets and whipped trees. Officials were bracing for a storm surge of several feet that could flood or submerge the Promenade along the Hudson River. On Wall Street, sandbags were placed around subway grates near the East River because of fear of flooding.

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.

Some cabs still on streets

While public transit was shut down, some taxi cabs could be found.

"I have to work. I would lose too much money," said cabbie Dwane Imame, who worked through the night. "There have been many people, I have been surprised. They are crazy to be out in this weather."

In New York City, 370,000 people had been ordered to move to safer ground, although they appeared in great numbers to have stayed put.

"It's nasty out there and wet," Cindy Darcy said from a 36-floor building facing the harbor. "We unplugged the drains, and we fastened anything loose or removed it." She was up early making bagels for the nine workers and 24 inhabitants who stayed in the building, which is in the evacuation zone.

New York has seen only a few hurricanes in the past 200 years. The Northeast is much more accustomed to snowstorms — including a blizzard last December, when Mayor Michael Bloomberg was criticized for a slow city response.

Irene made landfall just after dawn Saturday near Cape Lookout, North Carolina, at the southern end of the Outer Banks. Shorefront hotels and houses were lashed with waves, two piers were destroyed and at least one hospital was forced to run on generator power.

More than 10,000 flights have been canceled through Monday, according to FlightAware. That includes some 6,600 on Sunday alone. The number of airline passengers affected by the storm could easily be in the millions because so many flights make connections on the East Coast.

Amtrak, the nation's only long haul passenger rail service, canceled all Northeast trains for Sunday.

Irene caused flooding from North Carolina to Delaware, both from the 7-foot waves it pushed into the coast and from heavy rain.

More than one million of the homes and businesses without power were in Virginia and North Carolina, which bore the brunt of Irene's initial fury. Then the storm knocked out power overnight to hundreds of thousands in Washington, Maryland, Delaware, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, the New York City area and Connecticut.
Readers capture Hurricane Irene's approach

Irene was the first hurricane to make landfall in the continental United States since 2008, and came almost six years to the day after Katrina ravaged New Orleans and the Gulf Coast.

In New Jersey, the Oyster Creek nuclear plant, just a few miles from the coast, shut down as a precaution as Irene closed in. And Boston's transit authority said all bus, subway and commuter rail service were suspended Sunday.

NBC News reports that two homes had collapsed in Fairfield, Conn., according to Fairfield Police Dept. spokeswoman Suzanne Lussier.

There was an evacuation order put in place for this part of Connecticut but not all people heeded the orders and left, she said. Rescue teams were checking the homes for people.

In addition, there are currently 12,000 people without power in Fairfield alone and 70 people are in shelters

Federal Emergency Management Agency chief Craig Fugate told NBC's "Meet the Press" and other news shows on Sunday that people shouldn't underestimate the danger once Hurricane Irene passes.

Flooding, weakened trees and downed power lines pose a danger even after the storm moves north up the Atlantic Coast, Fugate said.

He urged not to drive around and sight see after the storm had passed through their areas. His advice: Stay inside, stay off the roads, and let the power crews do their job.

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Sources: CNN, MSNBC, Meet The Press, NY Daily News, Google Maps

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