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Manhattanites stay put for Sandy

By Sarah Caddick in Lower Manhattan, Wednesday October 31, 2012 - 10:15 EDT

Former ABC journalist Sarah Caddick says memories of Irene led many Manhattanites to stay put during Hurricane Sandy.



As foam flies off the surging Hudson River and rain forms intermittent veils over the famed brown bricks of downtown Manhattan, a neon sign not 30 metres from the rising waves flashes "Open 24 hours".

The sign inside the window of a corner store on Albany Street is emblematic of the feeling in this part of Evacuation Zone A as Hurricane Sandy bears down across New York State.

Zone A is a mandatory evacuation zone which includes Coney Island, Manhattan Beach, parts of Brooklyn and Queens, almost all of the coastal areas of Staten Island, some patches of the South Bronx, Battery Park City and portions of Lower Manhattan.

As I write, the lights are still on, people can still be spotted on the darkening streets, and the odd yellow cab whizzes past police cars stationed on street corners. I am yet to spot signs of hysteria to parallel that of the local media.

The mass transit systems have been shut down for the second time in New York history. The first was during last year's Hurricane Irene.

Wall Street is closed and over 70 schools have been converted into makeshift shelters. Wind gusts of up to 112 kilometres per hour are predicted, coastal areas such as Long Island and Atlantic City have already experienced flooding and tens of thousands of people are without power as the storm crescendos.

Yet inside the corner store, the sense of calm is almost eerie as people wait their turn.



Outside, a family of four with two young children scampers across the road and takes cover under the scaffolding of the World Trade Centre Memorial Site ‚?? just a block from the river.

The children race each other with a giggle. Cyclists scoot along the Hudson River Park track, paralleling the river, through the strengthening spray. Customers exit the store past the disapproving scowls of police officers parked on West Street.

The message to get out could not have been clearer. New York mayor Michael Bloomberg ordered residents of Zone A to leave by by 7pm last night (Sunday night).

In a live news conference broadcast nationally, he labelled as "selfish" any residents who chose to remain in mandatory evacuation zones. His directive was backed by the megaphone-armed police, who trawled the streets in convoy accompanied by air raid sirens.

Yet as she picks up some last minute essentials ‚?? "milk and cookies" ‚??Mother of two Julie Lussak is confident in her decision to remain in Zone A.

"We like our neighbourhood, we trust everybody, our building has doormen," she said.

"We live on the 42nd floor and we did evacuate last time. We had the same thing and we were much more uncomfortable than if we had stayed in the building."

For many residents, the recollection of last time (Hurricane Irene hit the region in August last year) infuses much of the sentiment about Sandy.

Despite the $15 billion damage bill, flooding rivers and coastline decimation across the state, many New Yorkers criticised authorities and the media for overhyping the possible impact, with far less damage than predicted.

Manhattan also avoided the worst of Irene, with Brooklyn, Long Island, Queens, the Bronx, upstate New York, Connecticut and New Jersey bearing the brunt.

Complacency

Authorities are warning against comparisons with Irene, dubbing Sandy the "worst natural disaster to hit New York in decades".

Despite this, surfers have still been spotted, resulting in condemnation from authorities. The sole injury reported at the time of writing is a runner who was hospitalised after being hit by a falling branch.

Once again, it is the low-lying, populous coastal areas such as Atlantic City and Long Island that have so far been hardest hit ‚?? perhaps feeding further complacency in Manhattanites.

Sega Kiremigjiam, 32, says she has assessed the breadth of the storm and believes nowhere is much safer than anywhere else in Manhattan.

She says she will remain in Zone A despite the continued warnings.

"I stayed last time, it wasn‚??t a big deal, and I am allowed to stay this time. It's more of a hassle to leave," she said.

Local doorman Andre Meredith, 37, is one resident who got caught in the transit shutdown.

"I worked my regular shift and then the subway shut down so there was no way to get out of the city yesterday," he said.

Despite being stationed outside, barely protected by the building‚??s doorframe, he is staying for his shift.

"I'll be here until it's over," he said.

As the wind starts to reach its predicted crescendo, heading upwards of 80 kilometres per hour, Sarah Kiremigjiam shares her major concern for the next 36 hours - "cabin fever".

Despite the water now lapping over riverside walkways, a 6pm curfew and President Obama's declaration of a state of emergency, residents can still be spotted breaking the fever with a quick trip to the corner store.


- ABC

© ABC 2012

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