New York City Goes Quiet As Storm Nears

Steve Inskeep speaks with NPR's Zoe Chace, Robert Smith and Jon Hamilton about the impact of Hurricane Sandy on New York City. Schools, the subway, even the floor of the New York Stock Exchange have been shuttered in advance of the storm. Nearly 400,000 New Yorkers in low-lying coastal areas have been told to evacuate.

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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

It's MORNING EDITION, from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep. Good morning. All this morning, we've been hearing from reporters up and down the East Coast, in the path of Hurricane Sandy. And next we're going to check up on New York City, where forecasters have spoken of a storm surge of 6 to 11 feet above normal waters. Sandy is still hundreds of miles away from New York but already, the city is experiencing the effects - as we're going to learn. We're going to NPR's Robert Smith, who is in New York. And Robert, where are you exactly - what are you seeing?

ROBERT SMITH, BYLINE: I'm in Far Rockaway, which is a neighborhood of New York City, but it is right up against the Atlantic Ocean. And you know, I have to say, the Atlantic Ocean is a lot closer to New York City than it was 12 hours ago - because the storm surge has come in, there is - it's high tide. And the waves are maybe 10, 12 feet. And in some sections, the waves are coming up, hitting the boardwalk, sending up sprays of water, and actually flooding streets here, in New York City. There are a lot of impassable intersections, now, in Far Rockaway.

INSKEEP: That's pretty amazing because you are hundreds of miles away from the eye of the storm. I wonder if this even technically counts as the storm surge, and yet it's obviously an ominous early sign.

SMITH: Yeah, I mean, there is a good part of this, which is that the next high tide will be much, much worse. And so people who - they were supposed to evacuate from the section of New York City, a lot of people stayed. But a lot of people are seeing that if it's this bad in the morning, what's it going to look like tonight, when the storm is much closer and there's another high tide? And a lot of people are reconsidering their decision to stay in this neighborhood.

INSKEEP: OK. And let's put that question to NPR's Jon Hamilton, who's in our studios here. And Jon, this is a huge storm. How much worse could it get, in New York?

JON HAMILTON, BYLINE: I think it could get quite a bit worse. This is - like you say - is an enormous storm; there's a huge field of wind, as they say, and it's pushing water toward the coastline here. So what you have is water pushed into the bay below New York City; you have it pushed into Long Island Sound, above New York City. And there's no place for that water to go, except up. And for comparison, you know, last year Irene did some flooding in Manhattan, and that was a storm surge of 4 and a half feet, just about.

INSKEEP: I'm thinking about the wind kind of hooking around, going north, and turning around to the west. And if you imagine the map of New York City, that suggests that water gets pushed up into New York Harbor from below; and also gets pushed in from the side, through Long Island Sound.

HAMILTON: Exactly.

INSKEEP: And so you have huge, huge situation there. Now Robert Smith, earlier, in a different part of Queens in New York City, you said people - some people had not evacuated; and were just beginning to get the idea, as the water rose, it might be a good idea. What about the part of the Rockaways you're in now - have people evacuated there?

SMITH: No, there's still a lot of people here. And - and - I'm next to an interesting phenomenon here, which is there's still a part of the beach where you can get to the sand. And I've seen car after car of people, pull up with garbage bags, shovel sand in, and bring them back to their homes - because they see that the water is going to hit the door, is going to hit their basement. And so they're doing sort of last-minute sandbagging, and deciding to stick out the storm.

INSKEEP: OK. Well, I guess the sand is available as long as the beach survives, anyway. We've got one other reporter on the line. NPR's Zoe Chace is in Manhattan - which, if you look at a map, would seem to be the most protected; the island of Manhattan there, in New York Harbor. Is the water rising there, Zoe?

ZOE CHACE, BYLINE: Yeah, I mean downtown, Battery Park area, the water has come up over the sea wall. And it's kind of - you can see, in pictures, it's kind of flooding up around the benches that are so nice to sit on, and look out at the Statue of Liberty. But in the middle of the city, where I am, you can't quite tell that there's a huge hurricane coming. Like, there's some rain, but it's not too much; it's pretty warm. There's actually people at work, right now, too. I've seen a bunch of people headed to work, and security guards standing outside.

INSKEEP: Jon Hamilton, how might the speed of this storm intensify its effects, in a place like New York - or any of the other coastal areas we've been hearing from, throughout the morning?

HAMILTON: Well, if forecasters are right, and this storm is going to slow down as it approaches the coast, what that means is that it - in any one place, you're getting a longer period of really bad weather. So if it's going, you know, 5 miles an hour and it's 500 miles across, you can imagine - you could be in the rain for a very long time.

INSKEEP: OK, so let's go back to Robert Smith, one last time. Robert, can you leave us with an image? What are you seeing, where you are?

SMITH: Well, I'm seeing a spray - a spray as the waves hit the boardwalk and it looks a little bit like Niagra Falls. The wind is pushing the water over and it's just, sort of, like mist in the air.

INSKEEP: Very dramatic, OK. That's NPR's Robert Smith in Far Rockaway, Queens. Thanks very much.

SMITH: You're welcome.

INSKEEP: Zoe Chace is in Manhattan. Thanks to you.

CHACE: Thank you.

INSKEEP: And NPR's Jon Hamilton, in our studios here. Thanks to you as well.

HAMILTON: My pleasure.

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