Irene makes landfall over Coney Island, closes roads

A camper is crushed by a fallen tree

A camper is crushed by a fallen tree on Woodhaven Boulevard as Hurricane Irene passes through. (Aug. 28, 2011) Photo Credit: Patrick E. McCarthy

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Tropical Storm Irene has swamped parts of highways that bracket Manhattan, and there's as much as 3 feet of water on segments of some other major New York City roadways.

City officials say portions of the FDR Drive are closed in both directions on the Lower East Side and southbound in East Harlem. On Manhattan's West Side, the southbound side of the Henry Hudson Parkway is closed in Harlem.

Officials say water 3 feet deep is blocking all lanes on a piece of the Jackie Robinson Parkway in Queens. Parts of the Grand Central Parkway in Queens and the Cross Bronx Expressway also are closed because of flooding.

Authorities also are reporting flooded roads in Long Island's Nassau County and elsewhere.

The National Hurricane Center in Miami says that Irene has lost hurricane strength and made landfall on New York's Coney Island.

Forecasters say Irene's winds have fallen to 65 mph.

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They say Irene should move over New England by the afternoon. Officials also warn that isolated tornadoes are possible in the northeast throughout the morning.

One tube of the Holland Tunnel between New York and New Jersey has been closed because of flooding from Hurricane Irene.

The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey announced the closing Sunday morning. No information was immediately available about the extent of the flooding.

The tunnel is one of the main conduits between Manhattan and northern New Jersey. It has two tubes. The north one is closed.

Authorities also have closed the lower level of the George Washington Bridge and one of the bridge's approaches in New Jersey. The bridge's upper deck is still open.

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 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.

More than 209,000 New York City and suburban homes and businesses have lost power as Hurricane Irene approaches the area.

Con Edison said nearly 34,000 New York City customers were without power early Sunday.

Con Ed and other utilities are reporting a total of more than 176,000 outages in Long Island and Westchester County. That includes Long Island Power Authority and NYSEG customers.

In New Jersey, utility PSE&G says about 166,000 customers statewide have lost electricity.

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Irene weakened after landfall over the North Carolina coast Saturday, but it was still a massive storm with sustained winds of up to 80 mph as it approached Manhattan.

Even worse, Irene's fury could coincide with a tide that's higher than normal. Water levels were expected to rise as much as 8 feet.

Forecasters said there was a chance a 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.

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. Officials were bracing for a storm surge of several feet that could flood or submerge the Promenade along the Hudson River.

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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."

Mayor Michael Bloomberg ordered more than 370,000 people out of low-lying areas, mostly in lower Manhattan, Brooklyn and Queens. Only 8,700 people checked-in to shelters and an untold number defied the order.

"Oh, forget Bloomberg. We ain't going anywhere," 60-year-old Evelyn Burrus said at a large public housing complex in Brooklyn. "Go to some shelter with a bunch of strangers and bedbugs? No way."

Many New Yorkers took the evacuation in stride. Some 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.

"If it lasts, we have dozens of movies ready, and we'll play charades and we're going to make cards that say, 'We survived Irene,'" he said.

The center of the storm was supposed to pass east of Manhattan about midmorning. The wind and rain wasn't to taper off until Sunday afternoon.

All subway, bus and commuter rail service was shuttered so officials could get equipment safely away from flooding, downed trees or other damage. It was the first time the nation's biggest transit system has shut down because of a natural disaster.

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.

At a shelter in the Park Slope section of Brooklyn, public housing residents arrived with garbage bags filled with clothing; others pushed carts loaded with their belongings.

Tenants said management got them to leave by telling them the water and power would be shut off.

"For us, it's him," said Victor Valderrama, pointing to his 3-year-old son. "I didn't want to take a chance with my son."

Con Edison brought in hundreds of extra utility workers from around the country. While the foot of Manhattan is protected by a seawall and a network of pumps, Con Ed vice president John Mucci said the utility stood ready to turn off the power to about 17,000 people in the event of severe flooding.

Mucci said it could take up to three days to restore the power if the cables became drenched with saltwater, which can be particularly damaging. The subway system, which carries 5 million passengers on an average weekend, wasn't expected to restart until Monday at the earliest.

The New York Stock Exchange 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.

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.

More than 8.3 million people live in New York City, and nearly 29 million in the metropolitan area.

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.

City police rescued two kayakers who capsized in the surf off Staten Island. They were found with their life jackets on, bobbing in the roiling water.

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. Dozens of buses arrived at the Brooklyn Cyclones minor league ballpark in Coney Island to help residents get out. Nursing homes and hospitals were emptied. At a shelter set up at a high school in the Long Island town of Brentwood, Alexander Ho calmly ate a sandwich in the cafeteria. Ho left his first-floor apartment in East Islip, even though it is several blocks from the water, just outside the mandatory evacuation zone. "Objects outside can be projected as missiles," he said. "I figured my apartment didn't seem as safe as I thought, as every room has a window."

Send us your tips on major storm-related problems/damage on Long Island and/or photos from Hurricane Irene at newstips@newsday.com or click to submit them through this form.

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