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NYC empties ahead of Hurricane Irene

A lone taxi drives down a west side highway on Saturday in New York. About 370,000 residents living in low-lying areas evacuated as the region girded for wind and rain. New Yorkers waited in long lines to buy batteries, bread and hamburger meat.

Associated Press

A lone taxi drives down a west side highway on Saturday in New York. About 370,000 residents living in low-lying areas evacuated as the region girded for wind and rain. New Yorkers waited in long lines to buy batteries, bread and hamburger meat.

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

All 25,000 garbage cans were turned upside 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 Irene barreled toward New York, it 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.

Con Ed officials said they had already shut off certain steam pipes in the Wall Street area Saturday, and if the East River breached its banks and saltwater seeped into equipment, they would power down completely, which would affect 6,500 customers.

A spokesman for the utility said if that happened "it would be a couple of days" before the company could turn back on the power. The New York Stock Exchange has backup generators and can run on its own, a spokesman told the Associated Press.

The prospect of no power and other problems raised by Mayor Michael Bloomberg had New Yorkers waiting in long lines outside grocery stores to buy everything from batteries to bread and hamburger meat.

Yvonne McKenzie recognized familiar warnings from her native Jamaica, where she experienced many hurricanes, so she fled to a Brooklyn 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 gym, 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."

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 sells, 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."

Even the Naked Cowboy, who stands at the Crossroads of the World wearing only underwear and a guitar, was prepared.

He had added a life vest.

NYC empties ahead of Hurricane Irene 08/27/11 [Last modified: Saturday, August 27, 2011 10:33pm]
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