NYC Escapes Worst As Irene Roars Through

With mass transit shut down and mass evacuations ordered, New York was braced for a "once-in-a-century" punch from Irene. But the impact was less than expected. NPR's Joel Rose reports from New York.

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JOEL ROSE: I'm Joel Rose in New York where Irene toppled trees and sent seawater spilling into the streets, but the flooding was not as bad as initially feared. At high tide this morning, the Hudson River lapped up above its seawall in several places, including Battery Park City. But the water stopped several feet short of street level. And that left local residents feeling pretty lucky.

BETTINA GORDON: We didn't lose power, everything is great. Had the windows taped up. We were all prepared.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

GORDON: Didn't need to do any of it.

ROSE: Bettina Gordon lives in Battery Park City. She's one of the 370,000 New Yorkers who were ordered to evacuate homes in low-lying areas, though Gordon decided to stay put.

GORDON: It never got really windy, just steady rain, so, you know, and it wasn't nearly as bad as I thought it was going to be, which I guess is a good thing.

ROSE: Lower Manhattan didn't escape totally unscathed. Maintenance man Dave Finnigan is sweeping water out to a storm drain in the middle of Wall Street across the street from the East River.

DAVE FINNIGAN: We're pumping the water out of our basement, get it out just through the sewer system so it doesn't get back into electrical pits.

ROSE: How much water did you take?

FINNIGAN: Had enough. We had a good foot of water in the basement. Yeah, a good foot.

ROSE: Is that normal for a big storm or...

FINNIGAN: No, no, not like that. No, we get heavy rains, we get a little bit, but nothing like this.

ROSE: But at the other end of Wall Street, the New York Stock Exchange was high and dry, and poised to re-open Monday morning. Overall, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg says it could have been much worse.

Mayor MICHAEL BLOOMBERG: I got up at three in the morning to look out the window and then I got up at six and I looked out the window, and I guess I had some relief because it was - it looked to me like we were being spared the worst.

ROSE: Still, flooding was reported in all five boroughs, especially near the beaches in Queens and Brooklyn. Hundreds of rain-soaked trees tipped over in parks and streets all over town. The main bridges and tunnels into the city never closed, but mass transit is still shut down. Officials at the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which operates several commuter railroads as well as New York City's subways and buses, could not say when service would resume. Mayor Bloomberg cautioned New Yorkers to prepare for a difficult commute on Monday morning.

BLOOMBERG: It's going to be tough.

ROSE: Parts of the New York State Thruway remained closed because of flooding in the Hudson Valley. There may be a difficult cleanup ahead in other parts of the state, too, especially the beaches of Long Island. Joel Rose, NPR News, New York.

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