Hurricane Irene: New York City Shuts Down Amid Flooding Fears

The New York metropolitan area was pelted with bands of rain in the early hours of Sunday as Hurricane Irene swarmed toward the city.

'We Close, Sorry': Hurricane Irene bore down on a dark and quiet New York early Sunday, bringing winds and rapidly rising seawater that threatened parts of the city. The rumble and squeal of the subway system was silenced for the first time in years, the city all but shut down for the strongest tropical lashing since the 1980s. Photo: Jonathan Percy/Flickr

A weakened but still dangerous Hurricane Irene shut down New York and menaced other cities more accustomed to snowstorms than tropical storms as it steamed up the East Coast on Saturday, unloading a foot of rain on North Carolina and Virginia and knocking out power to 2 million homes and businesses. At least eight people were killed.

New York emptied its streets and subways and waited with an eerie quiet. Washington braced for the onslaught, too, as did Philadelphia, the New Jersey shore and the Boston metropolitan area. Packing wind gusts of 115 mph, the hurricane had an enormous wingspan – 500 miles – and threatened a swath of the nation inhabited by 65 million people.

“Now the edge of the hurricane is finally upon us,” Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg said at a briefing from the city’s emergency command center in Brooklyn late Saturday night.

Since Friday, the city had done more than issue warnings. The subway system, one of the city’s trademarks, had shut down in the middle of the day on Saturday, and firefighters and social service workers had spent much of Saturday trying to complete the evacuation of about 370,000 residents in low-lying areas where officials expected flooding to follow the storm.

In New Jersey, Gov. Chris Christie said that more than a million people had been evacuated, mainly from four counties in the southern part of the state.

Officials warned that a big problem could be flooding at high tide, around 8 a.m. Sunday — before the storm has moved on and the wind has slacked off in and around the city, assuming Hurricane Irene more or less follows the path that forecasters expect it to follow.

“That is when you’ll see the water come over the side,” Mr. Bloomberg cautioned at a briefing on Saturday afternoon.

Electricity to lower Manhattan — including Wall St. and the heart of the nation’s financial industry — could be turned off by Sunday morning and may take three days to restore, Con Edison officials revealed. All buildings south of the Brooklyn Bridge and more than 6,500 customers could lose power if the streets in lower Manhattan flood due to Hurricane Irene’s driving rains and powerful storm surge.

“Salt water and electricity do not mix well,” said John Miksad, a senior vice president at Con Ed, adding that the power would not be turned off preemptively. “There is certainly sensitivity to that with these important areas.”

The New York Stock Exchange and other exchanges have generators to produce their own power, Miksad said. Other neighborhoods may also suffer outages due to flooding or downed trees, officials warned. [via The Huff Post, The Telegraph (UK) and NY Times]

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