As Irene bore down on New York City over the weekend, Gothamites effectively closed up shop, canceling subway service, shuttering Broadway venues and movie theaters and sending newsies scrambling to cover the unprecedented preparations.
Most of the storm’s damage was flood-related. On Sunday morning, waters reached five feet in Battery Park City, and seven feet in Staten Island. Flooding swept across both FDR Drive and West Side Highway, the two roads that allow quick travel up the east and west sides of Manhattan. Standing water three feet deep was reportedly blocking all lanes on part of the Jackie Robinson Parkway in Queens.
New Yorkers knew early on that the weekend would be a long one: Mayor Michael Bloomberg on Friday announced the evacuation of low-lying areas along the Big Apple’s waterfront areas — a Gotham first — and the Metropolitan Transit Authority shut down the entire subway system at noon on Saturday, effectively confining residents and tourists to shelter. (The subway hadn’t been shut down since 2005’s transit strike, a move that earned jail time for Transit Workers Union prexy Roger Toussaint.)
By Sunday afternoon, the rain and wind had passed over the city and the metro area, Irene herself had been demoted to a tropical storm, and most locals were principally concerned with when the subways were going to be back in service.
It wasn’t looking good for Monday ayem subway service, with the MTA advising patience as much of the Metro North flooded during the storm and initial inspections revealed flooded tracks and fallen trees throughout the system.
On the coverage front, NBC News kicked into high gear with corporate sibling the Weather Channel resources, while CBS added a special hourlong Sunday broadcast called “Irene Strikes” with Scott Pelley anchoring. Sunday’s “Good Morning America” expanded to three hours, with George Stephanopoulos and Robin Roberts anchoring from Times Square.
On cable, CNN extended coverage for Saturday afternoon and evening, while MSNBC covered through the weekend rather than going to tape and Fox News preempted programming for storm coverage.
The Mayor’s Office of Film, Theater and Broadcasting revoked all filming permits for the weekend (the MOFTB issued a terse statement via its website). Productions currently filming include Isla Fisher starrer “Bachelorette” and reality shows “Hoarders” and “Clean House.”
The evacuation area for the city included sections of all five boroughs, with the most severe flooding in Staten Island and Battery Park City. The weather was certain to affect the weekend’s box office, as many of the major theater chains decided to close Saturday and Sunday (see separate story).
All of Broadway cancelled Saturday and Sunday performances (see separate story), as did the New York Intl. Fringe Festival, Off Broadway theaterplexes New World Stages and 59E59, and sundry other venues.
It’s never desirable to close theaters on the weekend, especially on Broadway (Saturday night is almost always the performance that packs the house tightest), and the multibillion-dollar damage estimates for the storm include quite a bit of lost revenue.
With sustained winds of up to 85 mph forecasted, the entire city battened down the hatches starting Friday. Several hotels closed off elevator service from midnight on Saturday so that no one would be trapped in the event of an outage, and flat-fee-only cab service shut down at 10 p.m., with passengers required to share taxi seats with any stragglers needing a lift.
Saturday daytime was a mad dash to the grocery, or at least the convenience store, for anything that wasn’t nailed down. “The scene at our bodega looks like something from ‘Under the Dome,”’ said one Brooklynite, “which I guess I’ll be reading this weekend.”
By the end of the weekend, most Gothamites were looking to clean up the fallen branches, mop up the dirty water, and get on with it.
“I slept here last night,” one manager of Brooklyn’s River Cafe said proudly as he lugged a pump and a length of hose through the flower-petal-strewn doorway. “We were up all night pumping water, and we weathered it just fine. Buzzy (Michael O’Keeffe, the restaurant’s proprietor), too. He’s an old man, but he got just as dirty as the rest of us.”