As Storm Looms, NYC Shuts Down Mass Transit

For the first time ever, the New York Public Transit System (busses, trains, subways) shut down Saturday. Local officials are preparing for the arrival of Hurricane Irene.

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LAURA SULLIVAN, host: Now the full force of the storm isn't expected to hit New York City until tomorrow morning. But the city is already taking unprecedented steps to prepare. It's ordered 300,000 people out of low-lying areas and for the first time ever, shut down the mass transit system. NPR's Jim Zarroli has the story.

JIM ZARROLI: People pay a lot of money to live in the apartment towers of Battery Park City, partly because it's on the water in Lower Manhattan. But that also puts it right in the flood zone. Today, a steady stream of people could be seen leaving the neighborhood, toting their suitcases and bags. Emily Brown(ph) was told to leave her apartment building by 3 o'clock.

EMILY BROWN: The building is closing. They're shutting down the elevators. I believe maybe - they said the water might not work. All the staff are leaving. So we've got to go.

ZARROLI: She wasn't going far - just to a hotel uptown that's outside the flood zone. But New York never really shuts down. Though a lot of people left, there were still a fair number of bikers and runners trying to squeeze in some exercise in the rain - and even some tourists. Michael Stancco(ph) from Abilene, Texas, was headed to see ground zero a few blocks away. He was in town to see family.

MICHAEL STANCCO: My brother has lived here for seven years; haven't had a chance to come up here. And finally got up here and made it at the right time, I guess, if you want to be in history.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

ZARROLI: But it's no weekend to be a tourist in New York. All of the Broadway shows have been canceled. The museums are closed. The buses and commuter trains have already shut down and so has the subway, which is such a vital part of New York City life. Plastic tape was tied across the entrances of the subway stations. With mass transit no longer operating, employees couldn't get to work, and most stores and restaurants had to close. But not all.

Frankly Wines, a small shop just outside the evacuation zone, was doing a pretty brisk business today. Owner Christy Frank lives around the corner. Late August is normally a slow time, she says, but Irene has been great for business.

CHRISTY FRANK: We've been calling it the hurricane stimulus package. It's definitely been good for business. I have a number of other friends who own wine stores elsewhere in the city. And after yesterday, we were all just beat. It was like the day before Thanksgiving, or New Year's Eve.

ZARROLI: But much of the city was unusually quiet. Traffic was light, and there were few taxis to be had. With mass transit shut down, there was no easy way into or out of the city. As the rain got under way, many of those who stayed were hunkered down inside, waiting to see if Irene will turn out to be as bad as people fear.

Jim Zarroli, NPR News, New York.

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