Irene shuts down New York

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Irene shuts down New York

Irene weakened to a tropical storm on Sunday but the huge weather system remained dangerous as it raced across a shuttered New York City, leaving behind a stunned US East coast where at least 15 people died, severe flooding was widespread and 4 million homes and businesses lost power.

By (AP)

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Published: Mon 29 Aug 2011, 12:30 AM

Last updated: Mon 6 Apr 2015, 8:41 PM

Forecasters said Irene, while diminished in strength, was still massive and powerful, carrying sustained winds of 104kph after it’s long journey up the East Coast, where it dropped 30 centimetres of rain on North Carolina and Virginia. The National Hurricane Center downgraded the storm after its winds fell below 119kph, the threshold for a hurricane.

The breakdown of fatalities was — six in North Carolina, four in Virginia, two in New Jersey, and one each in Connecticut, Florida in Maryland.

The youngest fatalities were a boy killed by a falling tree in his apartment in Newport News, a city on a coastal peninsula in Virginia, and a girl who died in North Carolina.

As the eye of the sprawling storm blew through America’s largest city and Long Island to the east, it pushed an 2.5-metre Atlantic storm surge towards New York and sent salty floodwater flowing into lower Manhattan.

Forecasters said early Sunday that Irene was moving to the north-northeast at 40kph as it pushed northeast toward New England. Officials also warned that isolated tornadoes were possible in the northeast.

The huge storm — 805km wide — had threatened 65 million people up and down the Atlantic coast, estimated as the largest number of Americans ever affected by a single storm.

New York was eerily quiet. In a city where many people don’t own cars, the population stayed indoors. The entire transit system was shut down because of weather for the first time ever. All of the city’s airports were closed, with more than 9,000 flights cancelled. Broadway shows, baseball games and other events were all cancelled or postponed.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg had warned New York’s millions of residents they needed to avoid or evacuate low-lying areas.

Briny water from New York Harbour submerged parts of a promenade at the base of the island. A foot of water rushed over the wall of a marina in front of the New York Mercantile Exchange, where gold and oil are traded.

“You could see newspaper stands floating down the street,” said Scott Baxter, a hotel doorman in the SoHo neighbourhood.

As the centre of the storm passed over Central Park at midmorning, floodwater reached the wheel wells of some stranded cars in Manhattan, and more streamed into the streets of Queens.

Still, the storm didn’t come close to inflicting the kind of catastrophic damage that had been feared in the city. The September 11 museum, a centerpiece of the rebuilding of the World Trade Center site, said on Twitter that none of its memorial trees were lost.

Forecasters had said there was a chance a storm surge on the fringes of Lower Manhattan along New York Harbor could send sea water streaming into the maze of underground vaults that hold the city’s cables and pipes, knocking out power to thousands and crippling the city. Officials’ feared water would slosh into Wall Street, the ground zero location of the former Twin Towers and the luxury high-rise apartments of Battery Park City.

Battery Park City in the extreme south of Manhattan island was virtually deserted as rain and gusty winds pummelled 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. On Wall Street, sandbags were placed around subway grates near the East River because of fear of flooding.

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.

“I have to work. I would lose too much money,” said cabbie Dwane Imame, who worked through the night. “There have been many people, I have been surprised. They are crazy to be out in this weather.”

New York has seen only a few hurricanes in the past 200 years. The Northeast is much more accustomed to snowstorms — including a blizzard last December, when Mayor Michael Bloomberg was criticised for a slow city response.

Irene made landfall just after dawn on Saturday near Cape Lookout, North Carolina, at the southern end of the Outer Banks. Shorefront hotels and houses were lashed with waves, two piers were destroyed and at least one hospital was forced to run on generator power.

The number of airline passengers affected by the storm could easily be in the millions because so many flights make connections on the East Coast.

Irene caused flooding from North Carolina to Delaware, both from the 2-metre waves it pushed into the coast and from heavy rain.

More than one million of the homes and businesses without power were in Virginia and North Carolina, which bore the brunt of Irene’s initial fury. Then the storm knocked out power overnight to hundreds of thousands in Washington, Maryland, Delaware, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, the New York City area and Connecticut.

Eastern North Carolina got up to 35 centimetres of rain, according to the National Weather Service. Virginia’s Hampton Roads area was drenched with at least 23 centimetres, and up to 40 centimetres in some places.

North Carolina Gov. Beverly Perdue said Irene inflicted significant coastal damage, but some areas were unreachable because of high water or downed power lines.

A nuclear reactor at Maryland’s Calvert Cliffs went offline automatically when winds knocked off a large piece of aluminum siding late on Saturday night. Constellation Energy Nuclear Group said the facility and all employees were safe.

Irene was the first hurricane to make landfall in the continental United States since 2008, and came almost six years to the day after Katrina ravaged New Orleans and the Gulf Coast.

In Philadelphia, Mayor Michael Nutter declared a state of emergency, the first for the city since 1986. “We are trying to save lives and don’t have time for silliness,” he said.

In New Jersey, the Oyster Creek nuclear plant, just a few kilometres from the coast, shut down as a precaution as Irene closed in. And Boston’s transit authority said all bus, subway and commuter rail service were suspended Sunday. —

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