Stay tuned to Hurricane Irene updates on The Epoch Times’ live blog here.
NEW YORK—New York City was eerily quiet on Saturday after Mayor Bloomberg ordered the shutdown of the mass transit system.
Free bus rides were offered across New York City beginning at 8 p.m. on Friday. Subways fares were also eliminated to help expedite evacuations from low-lying areas. All city buses and subways were taken out of service by noon on Saturday and will remain out of service until the storm passes.
Manhattan—the business hub of the Western world—was devoid of the normal hustle-and-bustle of daily life. Tourists were generally nowhere to be found.
Many businesses closed early on Saturday, and some placed tape on their windows in hopes of preventing glass from flying in high winds. Many area grocery stores had run out of basic staples.
In the Newport area of Jersey City, across the Hudson River from Manhattan, the Target store’s food shelves were unusually barren.
Two of the busiest transit hubs in the country, Grand Central Terminal and the Times Square subway station at 42nd Street, were both completely empty after police officers cordoned them off.
Hill Country Chicken on Broadway and 25th Street is taking no chances as Hurricane Irene approaches the city. All of its windows have been covered over with plywood, but it remains open for business for hungry New Yorkers who are still out on the streets.
Maher Lotfalla, a manager at the PAX food store on 6th Avenue and 40th Street said he would try to stay open as long as possible.
“Tomorrow, all stores are going to be closed. If people in the neighborhood need any food, grab … [it] now,” he said, noting that customers who shopped at his store appeared to be happy to see any store open.
At a Starbucks on 7th Avenue and 27th Street, a sign posted in the window says: “Blame the weatherman. Not us.”
A common sentiment among many locals is that Hurricane Irene probably won’t do much damage and will just bring more rain, maybe high winds, and leave behind fallen tree limbs to be cleaned up. City officials aren’t taking any chances, however.
The last major weather event to strike the area was the winter blizzard that hit the East Coast in late December of last year, which brought New York City to a halt. Many observers as well as several outspoken city officials at the time said that Mayor Bloomberg did not do enough to prepare for the storm.
The mayor has issued updates throughout the day over the past several days, detailing his plans to keep New Yorkers safe: “This is a storm where if you’re in the wrong place at the wrong time, it can be fatal.
“There will be very high winds, no matter whether they’re categorized as a tropical storm or a Category 1, 2, 3, 37 hurricane—whatever it is,” the mayor said Saturday afternoon.
Irene will create “a lot of blowing debris,” he said.
“Tree limbs come down, and water gets into places that can cause electrical shorts,” Bloomberg said. “It is dangerous out there, and the thing that makes the most sense for everybody is to first comply with the mandatory evacuation.”More than 370,000 New Yorkers have been evacuated from the low-lying areas near the coast.
According to media reports, at least five people have been killed in North Carolina and Virginia.