Irene silences bustling Big Apple

High-tide flooding a big threat

Los Angeles TimesAugust 28, 2011 

— By late Saturday, New York just wasn't itself anymore.

All 25,000 garbage cans were turned upside down and shoved against buildings. The subways and buses were idle. Theaters, parks and airport departure gates were closed. Even a Starbucks on Madison Avenue didn't open. And if you had a D battery, you could name your price.

As Hurricane Irene barreled toward New York, the city was as quiet as a Christmas morning - only scarier.

Presented with a potential disaster that afforded some prep time, New Yorkers took full advantage of two days of warnings and unprecedented orders.

Many of the 370,000 residents living in low-lying areas did as they were told and evacuated. And, knowing the mass transit system would grind to halt starting at noon, people got where they had to go.

Throughout the day, city officials continued to emphasize the big fears: High winds that would knock out windows and topple trees, and water surges that threatened to submerge lower Manhattan and shut down Wall Street into this week.

Officials warned that a big problem could be flooding at high tide, around 8 a.m. today.

Yvonne McKenzie recognized familiar warnings from her native Jamaica, where she experienced many hurricanes, so she fled to a Brooklyn technical college being used as an evacuation center, one of 91 set up by the city.

As she settled down on one of about 180 blue cots set up in the gymnasium, McKenzie explained that she had left her home in Brooklyn's Red Hook neighborhood because she couldn't get out of her mind the waterfront just down the street.

"I figured, 'Let me escape while I can,' " McKenzie said. "I'm not alarmed. I'm not afraid. But I didn't want to be flooded out."

Nothing to do in NYC

In Times Square, normally bustling on a Saturday afternoon in advance of Broadway matinees, theatergoers were left to wander the streets in search of something to do.

Sebastian Tribbie, a young representative of the "Ha!" comedy club, sold 200 tickets by 4 p.m. for an evening performance - about quadruple what he'd normally sell, he said.

"My pitch is just 'We're open and we have alcohol,' " he said, laughing. "I mean, it's that's easy. There's literally nothing else open." (He said the club's proprietors had paid to keep performers in hotels overnight so that the show could go on.)

At least one restaurant wasn't taking any chances. At the trendy Half King bar on 23rd Street near the Hudson River, the door was locked and the windows were boarded. Perhaps the caution was a function of its owner: He is Sebastian Junger, author of "The Perfect Storm."

Don't be a tough guy

Throughout the day, during news briefings, Bloomberg, his shirt sleeves rolled up and his tone stern, kept warning New Yorkers that this was not a time for them to display their bravado.

"Most of the storm is going to take place during the night when you're asleep, or when you get up early Sunday morning," he said. "And the most important thing to do is to stay inside. ... It may be fun to say, 'I walked around in a hurricane,' but it wouldn't be fun if you have to say it from your hospital bed."

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