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New York City Withstands Irene's Rains and Winds

  • Margaret Besheer

Three local residents stand at the East River in the Brooklyn borough of New York City after hurricane Irene, downgraded in the city to a tropical storm, passed through, August 28, 2011

Three local residents stand at the East River in the Brooklyn borough of New York City after hurricane Irene, downgraded in the city to a tropical storm, passed through, August 28, 2011

New York City was spared hurricane force winds when Irene made landfall early Sunday in Coney Island, Brooklyn. The storm, which has been battering and threatening the east coast of the United States since Saturday, came ashore in the biggest U.S. city as a tropical storm and did not cause the widespread damage that was feared.

Irene battered this city of more than eight million people all through the night. Gusting winds and pounding rains announced her arrival hours before she made landfall, making it difficult for anxious city residents to get a good night's sleep.

Many worried about flooding from New York's two large rivers, the Hudson and the East River, and from pounding rain that started Saturday afternoon and continued with a vengeance through the night. Judy Sayegh, of Brooklyn, said she was concerned that her basement would flood.

“I woke up many times during the night to check that water was not coming into my cellar from my backyard because of the heavy rains and the wind. I was very relieved to see that my cellar was dry.”

A boy floats on a newspaper box in a flooded street in the Soho section of Manhattan after Hurricane Irene passed over the New York City area August 28, 2011

A boy floats on a newspaper box in a flooded street in the Soho section of Manhattan after Hurricane Irene passed over the New York City area August 28, 2011

Although she brought with her flood waters in some low-lying areas, ultimately Irene did not live up to weather forecasters' worst fears. When she hit Coney Island, famous for its boardwalk and amusement park, the U.S. Weather Service said her winds fell just short of the 119-kilometers per hour required for hurricane strength and downgraded Irene to a tropical storm.

This was good news for New Yorkers, where the governor had called up 2,000 National Guard troops to help residents through what could have been an historic weather event that also threatened the heart of the nation's financial center.

City Mayor Michael Bloomberg called for 370,000 residents living in low-lying areas in lower Manhattan, Staten Island and Brooklyn to evacuate before Irene's arrival, the first time the city has ever had such an evacuation.

More than 9,000 flights were canceled at area airports, the city's massive subway system shut down, as did buses and commuter trains. Baseball games and Broadway shows were canceled and even the city's zoos closed down ahead of Irene.

By Sunday, officials said approximately one-million people in the New York-New Jersey-Connecticut area had lost electricity.

In New York, Con Edison, the power company, said 1,700 workers were working through the storm to try to maintain electricity and several hundred more from as far away as Michigan, Texas and Colorado were traveling to New York to help them keep the lights and air conditioners on.

Heavy rains on already saturated ground made fallen trees a particular danger. Broken branches and strewn leaves could be seen on many streets in Irene's wake.

But most New Yorkers took the storm in stride, some throwing Irene parties on Saturday.

Brooklyn resident Jean McKenna said she did not let extensive media coverage unnerve her.

“Well, I tried not to worry about it too much because we have had these situations before when they predict big storms or big events of some sort and then they come to nothing. I mean, you want to be prepared of course, but you do not want to overdo it.”

Now the clean up begins. The city has not said yet whether the transit system will be up and running normally in time for Monday morning's rush hour. For some, this will be Irene's most inconvenient legacy.

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