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New Yorkers try for normalcy as Sandy approaches

Mon., Oct. 29, 2012, 12:46 p.m.

NEW YORK (AP) — Defiant New Yorkers jogged, pushed strollers and took snapshots of churning New York Harbor on Monday, trying to salvage normal routines in a city with no trains, schools and an approaching mammoth storm.

“The worst is still coming,” warned Gov. Andrew Cuomo as officials shut tunnels, Broadway, mass transit and the stock exchange, saying Hurricane Sandy’s storm surge could inundate downtown with up to 11 feet of water. Hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers living on the waterfront or low-lying areas were ordered to leave. He said the heart of the storm was going to hit the nation’s largest city at 6 p.m., two hours earlier than expected.

On New York’s Long Island, floodwaters had begun to deluge some low-lying towns and more than 100,000 customers had lost power. And high winds picked up during the day in the city, leaving a construction crane dangling from a $1.5 billion luxury condominium under construction in midtown Manhattan. Waters swelled over esplanades at the southern tip of Manhattan and parts of a highway that snakes along Manhattan’s East Side was flooded. About 16,000 New Yorkers lost power, mostly in the boroughs of Queens and Staten Island.

Despite the dire forecasts, many chose to embrace what was coming.

Tanja Stewart and her 7-year-old son, Finn, came from their home in Manhattan’s TriBeCa neighborhood to admire the white caps on the Hudson, Finn wearing a pair of binoculars around his neck. “I really wanted to see some big waves,” he said.

Mark Vial pushed a stroller holding his 2-year-old daughter Maziyar toward his apartment building in Battery Park City, an area that was ordered evacuated.

“We’re high up enough, so I’m not worried about flooding,” said Via, 35. “There’s plenty of food. We’ll be OK.

Nearby, Keith Reilly climbed up on a rail next to the rising waters of New York Harbor so his friend Eli Rowe could snap a photo of him in an Irish soccer jersey with the Statue of Liberty in the background.

“This is not so bad right now,” said the 25-year-old Reilly. “We’ll see later.”

The worst of the storm, a combination of Sandy, a wintry system from the West and cold air streaming from the Arctic, was expected to hit the city under a full moon at about 6 p.m. Surging waters of between 6 and 11 feet could flood subway tunnels, knocking out the underground network of power, phone and high-speed Internet lines that are the lifeblood of America’s financial capital.

It marked the second time in 14 months that New York City has faced a scenario forecasters have long feared: a big hurricane hitting the city or a bit south, with counterclockwise winds driving water into miles of densely populated shoreline.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg urged more of the 375,000 people in the city’s evacuation zone to get out earlier Monday, saying the weather would soon get too bad to leave. He closed schools for a second day on Tuesday. The U.N. and the 9/11 memorial were also closed.

“Leave immediately. … The window for you getting out safely is closing,” he said.

Joshua Segal, who lives in a 10-story Battery Park City building, stayed, chatting with neighbors outside his building Monday afternoon. He said at least half of his neighbors decided not to leave, even though the superintendent turned off the elevator.

He said he can understand why people with health concerns might want to evacuate but “if you’re in good health and you’re just going to stay and read a book by candlelight — I’m OK.”

Without most stores and museums open, tourists were left to snap photos of the World Trade Center site, Wall Street and Times Square in largely deserted streets.

Belgian tourist Gerd Van don Mooter-Dedecker, 56, wandered in to Trinity Church after learning that a planned shopping spree with her husband Monday wouldn’t happen. “We brought empty suitcases so we could fill them up,” she said.

She was scheduled to fly home Tuesday but now hopes the foul weather will extend their vacation. The weather didn’t worry her. “We’re used to it at home,” she said.

And New Yorkers Andrew Rotz and Alex Grvymala, two young investment bankers on the Battery, wearing shorts and t-shirts, were jogging all over Lower Manhattan. Rotz said they wanted to blow off some energy before the storm hit.

“It’s seems like this one’s for real,” Grvymala said of the coming storm.

Long Island felt the brunt of the storm first, covering famed Jones Beach in water by early Monday and flooding towns like Riverhead and Montauk on the Hamptons. At least 14 people who didn’t evacuate from Fire Island had to be later rescued by emergency crews.

Cuomo ordered two key tunnels to Manhattan shut down, as well as the George Washington and the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge.

But he said that most of the National Guard troops deployed to the area would go to Long Island. Lights flickered and sound went in and out of his microphone during a Monday afternoon news conference in Farmingdale.

“Long Island has become more and more vulnerable and the primary area of our concentration,” he said.

In the fishing village of Greenport, Sean Seal piled dirt and sandbags onto the alleyway behind his collectibles store where the water was steadily creeping up the street toward his front door. He only opened the shop about two months ago.

“We put everything up. Up on tables, up on shelves, as far as we could,” he said. “It’s gonna be devastating. We’ll lose a lot of stuff. It’s not gonna be good.”

People were shopping for last-minute supplies in Bayville, located directly on Long Island Sound near Oyster Bay, as the sound splashed over a seawall on the only road that leads in and out of the town. Judy Sniffen returned from taking her husband for dialysis on Monday morning.

“I’m taking it very seriously; this storm is very serious to me,” she said. “That Sound looks very angry.”

In midtown, a construction crane collapsed in high winds and dangled precariously from One57, a luxury apartment building near Carnegie Hall and Central Park with two duplexes under contract for more than $90 million each. There were no immediate reports of injuries.


Associated Press writers Karen Matthews, Colleen Long and Deepti Hajela in New York, Larry Neumeister, Frank Eltman and Meghan Barr on Long Island, and Seth Borenstein in Kensington, Md., contributed to this report.

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