Bloomberg urges New Yorkers to beware the power of Hurricane Irene
Hurricane Irene began inching into New York City early Sunday, less powerful than when it made landfall in North Carolina but still mean enough to bring powerful wind gusts, driving rain, tornado warnings, and one last appeal from Mayor Michael Bloomberg to locals to resist the urge to go outside and watch the storm unfold.
Before daybreak, there were no signs of flooding in low-lying areas that were under mandatory evacuation orders -– including Battery Park City and other sections of lower Manhattan -– but high tide at 8 a.m. (5 a.m. PDT) was expected to be a breaking point. The full power of the storm, which by Sunday had been blamed for nine deaths, was not due to be felt in the metropolitan area until midday.
Irene, which made its first landfall in North Carolina early Saturday, bounced back to sea but returned to land early Sunday off New Jersey.
With all subways and commuter trains shut down, businesses shuttered and normally packed streets deserted, most of New York late Saturday seemed to have headed inside to watch the rare sight of a hurricane entering Gotham from the safety of home or evacuation shelters. But not all.
At a late-night news briefing, Bloomberg dressed down two kayakers who had to be rescued from roaring surf off Staten Island after heading into the sea Saturday evening. “Why they were out there … I don’t know,” he said, adding that rescuers “miraculously” spotted them in the waves and brought them to safety.
“It’s cute to say I was outside during the storm, but you’re much better off staying inside and looking out,” said a visibly exhausted Bloomberg who stumbled over his words several times and even seemed to struggle to remember Irene’s name at one point. “Hurricane,” he said, before pausing and adding, “uh… Irene.”
While Irene had been downgraded to a Category 1 storm -– the least threatening on the hurricane scale -– by the time it reached the metropolitan area, the novelty of having a storm of this magnitude heading straight for the nation’s largest city makes it a historic event. Irene was also the first hurricane to make landfall in the continental United States since 2008, and it came nearly six years to the day after Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans.
History aside, the storm’s aim toward a city of tightly packed streets lined with glassy high-rises and construction cranes makes it decidedly menacing. As Bloomberg said when he told people to stay inside, “Nature is a lot stronger than the rest of us.”
--Tina Susman in New York
Photo: Despite the mayor's appeal to stay inside, revelers enjoy the puddles in Times Square early Sunday. Credit: Brendan McDermid, Reuters