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Hurricane Sandy lands first blows in NYC

A man walks past a barricaded subway entrance

A man walks past a barricaded subway entrance near Battery Park during the arrival of Hurricane Sandy in New York City. Credit: Getty

Buffeted by winds and high water, Manhattan and other shoreline areas of New York City weathered Hurricane Sandy's first assault early Monday but faces a second and more dangerous onslaught as the weather intensifies during the evening's full-moon high tide -- possibly reaching 11 feet in height by around 8 p.m., city and state officials said.

Thousands of city residents were evacuated from Battery Park City, the Rockaways and other low-lying parts of the city, where waves overshot sea walls and beaches. The flood-prone Holland and Brooklyn Battery tunnels were closed at 2 p.m. And portions of the FDR Drive were intermittently flooded during the morning's high tide.

Police patrolled lower Manhattan streets, appealing to residents to move to safer ground, as the state decided to double its metro area National Guard deployment with another 1,000 troops.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg said flood-zone residents who don't evacuate may end up endangering the lives of rescuers.

"As the winds start building this afternoon, it gets more and more dangerous to go outside. And so you're sort of caught between a rock and a hard place," Bloomberg said in a news conference. "You should have left, but it's also getting to be too late to leave."

The financial markets will remain closed Tuesday, Bloomberg said the city's schools would also shut Tuesday, for a second day. Public transit will remain shut down at least through Tuesday as officials took steps to guard against a salt water incursion into the subway system's switches and other electrical components.

Decisions on whether to close city bridges will be made on a case-by-case basis, depending on wind speed.

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo told New Yorkers on Tuesday that the state and city have done their best to get ready for the effects of Hurricane Sandy, but he warned that the worst is yet to come as a storm surge combines with high tide that will peak at around 8 p.m.

"The issue of the hour is the storm surge," Cuomo said. "Do not underestimate this storm."

The hurricane grew stronger and faster early Monday, bringing a "life-threatening storm surge" to the East Coast and the risk of hurricane-force winds.

The storm surge "is already at Irene levels," Cuomo said, referring to the August 2011 tropical storm that hit Long Island and the metropolitan New York area.

"The question is going to be at what levels does the surge take us to later on this afternoon, late this evening when it's actually high tide. If there's a possible area of concern, that is it."

Water levels are expected to reach 11.7 feet, state Director of Operations Howard Glaser, a Cuomo aide, said at the news conference in the governor's Manhattan office.

As officials urged evacuation, NYPD officers drove in marked cruisers near South Street Seaport, making announcements on loudspeakers telling folks to evacuate. If they don't, the announcement said, they may be charged with class-B misdemeanor.

In Battery Park City, many people decided to hunker down and ride out the storm despite officials' caution. Yet they risked being cut off from electricity as water approaches a predetermined threshold -- the steps leading up to the sidewalk from the South Cove Park river walk marker.

At that point, flooding will trigger a shut off for power to the dozens of high-rise apartment buildings in the neighborhood where at least 10,000 residents live.

"If that water hits above the stairs, that means flooding for all the buildings," said Bob Mauceri, a superintendent for 21 years at a building on the Hudson River, where water swells were reaching the esplanade Monday morning.

Monday morning, city resident Firdosh Tangri, 31, an immigrant from India, sipped a cup of coffee on South End Avenue, where groups of people watched the hurricane's effects and took photos along the riverwalk. Tangri said he grew up in monsoon territory, and, in his view, "this is noting for us. . . . I feel pretty comfortable right now."

Several New York City Police officers took snapshots of each other with the Statue of Liberty in the background.

British tourist Kerry Jones and her family took a cab from their midtown hotel to take pictures of the incoming hurricane. "I think it is a bit much on the hype," Jones said, snapping a photograph of her husband and daughter. "It's worse in Cornwall where we live."

Newly arrived Battery Park City resident Nora Funaro and her daughter, Lucia, 13, had made hotel reservations at a lower Manhattan hotel outside the flood zone. "I'm cool," she said, smiling. "We're new in the neighborhood so we did not know what to do."

Joseph Alonzo, who has lived in the neighborhood for several years, was wearing shorts as he walked his dog, and expressing his nonchalance amid the dire predictions. "I'm staying put. It was either Jersey or here and I rather be stuck here at home" where he said he had stockpiled food, water and batteries.

At Flushing Meadows Park, Meadow Lake was already starting to spill over on land, and branches were already down earlier Tuesday morning.

In Astoria, the East River was picking up and its crests looked menacing as it crashed against the RFK Bridge. People in Astoria Park were walking dogs or getting in a last run, or, in some cases, just taking a look. Police and park officials drove through the park, but didn't chase anyone.

Demetre Rigas, 60, said he wasn't going to let the wind and rain stop him from the walk he takes each morning. But when he got near the river, he started to stagger in the wind.

"I'm not a small guy, but I had to hold on to something," he said. "You could be swept off your feet. It's very very dangerous."
For Rigas, the wind was the biggest problem.

Nonetheless, he planned to come back out for his afternoon and evening walks as well.

"This is once in a lifetime," he said.

Astoria resident Harley Nager, 31, said he was walking through Astoria Park, which was technically closed this morning, to get one last walk in for his dog, Seven.

"It's more wind than rain," Nager said. "I had to get out before we go home and hunker down and hope the thunder doesn't scare the dog."
Nagerworks from home so subway closures didn't change the fact that he had to work Monday.

"Unless," he added. "The power goes out."

Nager met up with several other dog walkers, including Stavrovla Nestoros, who noted that her husband, Constantine, owns a restaurant in Manhattan called The Morning Star at West 57th Street and Seventh Avenue. He left Astoria at 5:30 a.m., driving in and picking up waiters and cooks along the way so he could open.

By 10:30 a.m. the East River was already rising above its banks in Long Island City, where residents had been given mandatory evacuation orders on Sunday. Despite those orders, dozens of area residents flocked down to the river to watch the waves while their children played in the water. Even as patrol cars with loudspeakers announced evacuation orders, families still milled around, without any plans to leave.

For Hayden, 7, it was a chance to break out her snowsuit and play in the East River spillover. Splashing through the flooded walkway, which came up to her knees at one point, Hayden seemed oblivious to the police officers and emergency personnel patrolling the river banks.
Mom Sarah Atwood said she had left town before Tropical Storm Irene, but decided this time to stay put.

"Irene was so not a big deal," Atwood, 38, said. "Now, I felt like if we were going to be stuck inside later, why not go out and play?"
In Atwood's building, the City Lights building in Long Island City, just two of the five elevators were working.

Long Island City resident Lee Richman, 43, said he has lived near the river since 1997 -- but, as he came to the river's edge with his daughter Hailey, 5, he shook his head as he stepped into the already marshy grass.

"I've never seen it this high, ever since I've been here," he said, watching the river lap past the light posts and onto the sidewalk. "But our concern right now is not so much the water coming over, but whether the power goes out."

And Hailey, decked out in purple rain boots, said, "I like it because its getting me soaked."

Richman said he could have gone to his parents' home in St. James but didn't want to chance going to Long Island and perhaps deal with power outages there. If the weather worsens, he said, he might head to Manhattan, where his friends live.

Richman, an electronic architect, said he canceled all appointments for Monday so he could stay home with his family.

City Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer came to the evacuation zone to evaluate the situation and said he had tried to encourage his constituents to leave.

"Some of them clearly may have chosen to ride it out," he said. "We're just trying to give them the best information possible. . . . But I'm not surprised to see some people staying."

Van Bramer said he thought the water was already "pretty high," especially given that the storm hadn't yet begun in earnest.

"It makes me concerned that at the height of the storm and the height of the tide, some of this could be underwater," said Van Bramer, gesturing to the parkland, playgrounds and pathways at the water's edge.

"It's better to be safe than sorry. You don't want to get stuck if the storm worsens or we do lose power."

Nearby, at the Waters Edge Restaurant, the river had already lapped up over the parking lot, entranceway and part of the patio. The restaurant was closed, but some watching the water worried it would flood the local streets, too.

In Sheepshead Bay, the waterfront prepared for the storm Monday, as wind and water surged and receded intermittently around the bay's marina and the expensive Manhattan Beach shorefront properties that sit on the narrow strip between the marina and the shoreline. Most of the cars in that area were gone, suggesting that many residents had evacuated. Some were still driving out.

Parts of Manhattan Beach flooded with several inches of water Monday morning, though some of this receded a little later on. Police closed Emmons Avenue, which runs along the marina, and parked vans all along the waterfront. Fire trucks, Con Edison trucks and other special response teams patrolled the area.

A fine watery mist drove against everything in the vicinity. Occasionally, the wind ripped several-foot-long branches off trees and threw them in the middle of the road, though little damage beyond that seemed visible.

Boats were all empty, bobbing on the waves. A few people strolled along, wrestling with their umbrellas and trying to snap pictures. One man, who wouldn't give his name, proclaimed, "I got boat tickets for you guys. Who wants to go on a boat right now?" The only manned boat was a rescue boat.

Most businesses along Emmons Avenue, the nightlife promenade of Sheepshead Bay, had closed, with one lobster restaurant piling sandbags in front of its doors. Others remained open, but some chose to close early, like Joe Scola, who owns a pizzeria.

"I lost money opening this morning," said Scola, shaking his head at the rain-slick street and the marina waters that bobbed a few feet below the concrete barrier. But Scola's main problem wasn't the storm so much as the closed streets and subways. "We can't deliver; nobody can come here, nothing," he said.

Tomorrow, he plans to be cautious. "I'm going to come by in the morning and see if there's anything left of my store before I decide whether I'm gonna open," he said.

But a small handful of businesses decided to weather the storm. Masal Cafe and Lounge, which relies mostly on clients within walking distance, had more than a dozen customers sipping coffee and conversing. The lounge is located in the lobby of another building, even though its windows directly face the waterfront. As long as their clients come in, they see no reason to close.

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