As Irene makes landfall in North Carolina, it’s still an open question how badly New York is going to get whacked. But that hasn’t stopped the entire city from assuming the worst — from a complete precautionary shutdown of city’s transit system for the first time ever, to panic buying at grocery and hardware stores. If you don’t have a flashlight and candles yet, good luck finding them now. There still may be one lonely bag of trail mix left at Trader Joe’s, but it’s probably that kind with the dried pineapple that nobody likes.
“Is this the apocalypse supply line?” a man asked as he stood in a line that stretched outside a hardware store on First Avenue, waiting to buy batteries.
The MTA will shut down the entire transit system at noon, and it’s quite an undertaking. The Post:
The arduous process — which was last done in 2005 for the transit strike — includes sending workers to lock up each of the system’s 468 stations, moving trains to safe spots away from flood zones, and cutting the power on all of the lines. It will take about eight hours.
As during the transit strike, cabs will take group fares and livery cabs will be allowed to make street pickups. And, in case you’re evacuating Fido, taxis and all buses are required to take pets as passengers. Still, the chances of successfully finding a ride when you need one are probably not good. And in case you were wondering, the MTA won’t be giving you a discount on those unlimited Metrocards that you won’t be able to use. Bridges out of the city will suspend tolls, though, so you’ll save $13.50 as you flee to Staten Island with all of your worldly possessions.
The mandatory evacuation of New York’s flood-prone “Zone A” areas, especially in the Rockaways, is already underway.
“No one is going to get arrested and no one is going to be fined,” Bloomberg said. “But we do not have the manpower to go door to door dragging people out of their homes.”
Officials urged Zone A residents not to wait for the last train or bus out, since they are likely to be overcrowded and the MTA also needs to evacuate its own workers from those areas. There will, however, surely be holdouts.
“I ain’t leaving,” Daniel O’Sullivan, 53, a retired Department of Transportation carpenter from Broad Channel, Queens, told the Post. “I ain’t listening to Bloomberg. Tell Bloomberg I ain’t going anyplace. No way I’m moving. What’s he going to do, lock me up?”
Chris Christie was characteristically gentle in warning Jersey Shore residents to forget about the “T” in their GTL regimens.
“Get the hell off the beach in Asbury Park and get out — you’re done,” he said. “You’ve maximized your tan. Get off the beach. Get in your cars, and get out of those areas. You know, it amazes me that you have responsible elected officials from North Carolina north through Massachusetts, along with National Weather Service folks, telling you this is going to be an enormous storm and something for New Jersey that we haven’t seen in over 60 years. Do not waste any more time working on your tan.”
So how bad is Irene going to be in New York, really? The eggheads at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration currently estimate there is a 5 to 10 percent chance that New York will experience hurricane-force winds (more than 74 miles per hour). The eye wall of Irene is expected to make landfall in New Jersey on Sunday morning, with New York getting hit several hours later.
But even a sub-Category 1 hurricane could cause some serious drama, with flooding knocking out the electrical grid. ConEd is bringing in workers from Texas to help deal with the expected problems, but there may come a time on Sunday evening when you will really wish you had bought that flashlight.
Stay tuned for updates.
Update I: The Journal explains why it is the storm surge that could do the real damage:
Because of its large size, the intense central pressure of the storm is more typical of a Category 2 or 3 hurricane. An experimental product from the National Hurricane Center has rated Irene at 5.0 on a 6.0-point scale for its potential to create damaging storm surge and waves. These are values seen more typically in Category 4 hurricanes, meaning Irene is extremely dangerous.
Translation? A possible 7-to-15 foot storm surge in Brooklyn, Manhattan, and Queens.
Update II: As of noon today, all of the city’s airports were closed to incoming flights — although, until further notice, flights are being allowed to leave, which is surely a comfort to all the New Yorkers who hoped to weather the hurricane while on a beach in San Diego or somewhere else equally far from all this nonsense.
Update III: The Rapture has begun! Check out these reader-submitted photos of deserted streets in the Meatpacking District and at Ninth Avenue and 49th Street, respectively.