Hurricane Irene leaves tourists trapped in New York City
Scores of evacuees are pouring into shelters around the New York area, as residents of low-lying areas scramble to reach higher ground ahead of Hurricane Irene.
But New York on Saturday was also filled with a different form of dispossessed: the displaced tourist.
August is high tourist season in New York, with visitors from around the world moving through the city as though it were the revolving door of a midtown office building. (Many year-round occupants of those buildings, it should be said, have headed elsewhere.)
Schools are out, adults are on vacation and visitors from Europe, Asia and other parts of the U.S. turn parts of the city into a walking gallery of googly-eyed picture-takers. (Overall, the total number of visitors to New York in 2010 surpassed 47 million, an all-time high.)
On Saturday, many of those people found themselves stuck in a city that -- their affection for it notwithstanding -- they might not be able to leave anytime soon. Airports and mass transit are shut down, and roads out of the city are facing possible closure because of flooding.
Kate Naver, 37, was on an around-the-world trip from Melbourne, Australia, and was just beginning to realize she was going to be stuck here beyond her Tuesday departure date.
"British Airways sent me an email yesterday saying basically 'Your flight has been canceled. Hope it doesn't trouble you!' And when you try to call them," she added, "a recorded voice just tells you to call back because of the high volume of calls."
To those who've lost power, homes and more in North Carolina, a few extra days in New York might seem like a champagne problem. But for tourists, a canceled flight can mean thousands of dollars in added hotel expenses -- if a room is available at all.
Melanie Schillinger arrived last week from Munich with her husband and children. She was set to head out of town Tuesday to Boston, where she hoped she and her family would be able to take a scheduled flight back home. "We'll be able to get the car out of New York," she said. Then, more tentatively, "We will be able to get the car out, won't we?"
Armanda and Ben Carcani drove up to New York from Virginia with their two young daughters last week when it looked like Irene would be largely a problem south of the Mason-Dixon line. On Saturday, they were wondering if they should have driven in another direction -- maybe west?
Several people, however, found themselves in the strange position of coming to a hurricane-threatened New York to seek shelter.
Joe Bawol and his girlfriend, Elizabeth Brady, both 32, were driving back on Friday from a camping trip in Montreal. They were headed to Baltimore, where they live, when they realized that continuing into the teeth of a major storm might not be a good idea. So they pulled over and stayed with one of Bawol's college friends in Brooklyn.
"My mother called me from Maryland and worried that I was in New York," he said. "I told her I was more worried about her in Maryland."
-- Steven Zeitchik in New York
Photo: Tourists look at the Statue of Liberty no Saturday before the arrival of Hurricane Irene. Credit: Reuters / Eduardo Munoz