NEW YORK >> Firefighters rescued dozens of people from flooded homes on Staten Island, residents removed garbage and debris from clogged sewer gates and once-quiet roads became busier soon after Irene crossed New York as a powerful tropical storm.
In Queens, bungalows floated down the street and emergency crews were checking to make sure no one was inside. There was heavy flooding in other parts of the city, but Manhattan was mostly spared.
Coney Island boardwalk landmarks like the red parachute drop tower, the Cyclone roller coaster, and Dino’s Wonder Wheel appeared intact. Residents there pitched in to dislodge debris from the sewer gates.
“It’s working,” said Daniels Stevens, as a small whirlpool appeared where the water was draining out. “When we started, the water was almost up over the hub caps on that parked car.”
Irene weakened after landfall over the North Carolina coast Saturday, but it was still a massive storm with sustained winds of up to 65 mph as it hit the city. Coinciding with a tide that was higher than normal, water levels rose, but not as high as anticipated. It was quickly receding.
In Manhattan, some streets were flooded on the east and west side of the island, closing major thoroughfares of the Henry Hudson Parkway and the FDR Drive. The Tappan Zee Bridge was closed because of flooding on the highway leading up to it.
Twelve-year-old Alex Cuglewski said he set his alarm last night for 3 a.m. so he could get up and watch Irene from his family’s eight-floor oceanfront apartment in a stretch of Rockaway Beach where everyone was supposed to evacuate.
“It wasn’t that bad. People evacuated for no reason,” he said. Waves went up to the boardwalk but did not spill into his street.
Water from New York Harbor washed the edge the sidewalk at Battery Park along the tip of the island. About a foot of water lapped over the wall of the marina in front of the New York Mercantile Exchange in lower Manhattan. A low-lying section of the promenade hugging Battery Park was also submerged, and much of the operational equipment for the ferries out to Staten and Ellis Island damaged. It could take a day to get up and running.
But the Sept. 11 Memorial and Museum sent a Twitter message that read: “None of the memorial trees were lost.” About 400 trees have been planted ahead of the 10th anniversary next week. And the city’s biggest utility said it was cautiously optimistic that it would not be shutting down a grid that would have cut power to Wall Street and 17,000 people.
Slowly cabs started appearing downtown and residents returned despite the evacuation order.
“It was a fun little adventure. I tried not to think about the hype and take things as they came,” said Zander Lassen, 37, who spent the night at a boathouse watching sailboats. “We planned on it being a little less scary than it was predicted.”
Grace Tate, a Manhattan paralegal, found her herself stranded in the World Financial Center lobby with a front row seat to the hurricane.
She had been determined to make it downtown for Sunday services at Trinity Church, only to learn they’d been cancelled. Security and maintenance men who had spent the night in the building were her only company.
“First the earthquake and now this,” she said as heavy rain pounded empty streets outside.
Bloomberg was right “to err on the side of overkill,” Tate said of the mayor’s insistent warnings to evacuate0. “I think we need to be more respectful of nature.”
Other neighborhoods weren’t as lucky. Coastal areas of Staten Island and parts of Queens had the most damage from flooding. Power was out to 111,728 customers around the city and hundreds of thousands in Long Island.
Bloomberg ordered more than 370,000 people out of low-lying areas, mostly in lower Manhattan, Brooklyn and Queens. Only 9,600 people checked into shelters and an untold number defied the order.
All subway, bus and commuter rail service was shuttered so officials could get equipment safely away from flooding, downed trees or other damage. It took several hours to shut down Saturday and will take an unknown amount of time to get running again, raising concern about Monday’s commute. The system carries 5 million passengers.
Boilers and elevators also were shut down in public housing in evacuation areas to encourage tenants to leave and to prevent people from getting stuck in elevators if the power went out.
A hurricane warning was issued for the city for the first time since Gloria in September 1985. That storm blew ashore on Long Island with winds of 85 mph and caused millions of dollars in damage, along with one death in New York.
The area’s three major airports — LaGuardia, Kennedy and Newark Liberty — were closed. With the subways closed, many were left to hail taxis. To encourage cab-sharing and speed the evacuation, passengers were charged not by the mile but by how many different fare “zones” their trip crossed.
Associated Press writers Beth Fouhy, Samantha Gross, Jennifer Peltz, Verena Dobnik, Tom Hays, and Deepti Hajela in New York contributed to this report.