New York City Avoids Serious Damage as Deadly Irene Speeds North

Cony Island Flooded
A taxi sits in flood water on Coney Island after Hurricane Irene hit, in New York, August 28, 2011. Photographer: Emmanuel Dunand/AFP/Getty Images

New York City residents returned to Manhattan streets, yellow taxis began plying their usual routes and equity markets planned to open after Irene passed through as a tropical storm, less severe than the hurricane local officials feared.

While subways and buses may not be restored to full service right away, and airports may not return to regular operations until tomorrow, bridges and tunnels and major highways that had closed in high winds opened. More than 1.7 million lost power as the storm swept through New York and New Jersey, parts of which remained flooded.

In the city, water closed some highways, such as the Belt Parkway along the south Brooklyn shore. Metro-North commuter trains that link Manhattan with suburbs in Westchester and Connecticut will be out indefinitely due to track damage, according to Marjorie Anders, Metropolitan Transportation Authority spokeswoman.

“The good news is the worst is over and we will soon move to restore-and-return mode,” New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg said at a briefing yesterday at the New York Police Department’s Lower Manhattan headquarters.

Subways Starting

City government will open today and employees are expected to come to work if they have a way to make the trip, the mayor said in a release last night. The MTA will begin restoring subway service starting at 6 a.m., according to a release from New York Governor Andrew Cuomo and MTA Chairman Jay Walder.

In Manhattan’s Battery Park City, where shallow water flooded part of its Hudson River promenade, residents who had been told to evacuate enjoyed views of a clearing harbor yesterday. Bloomberg lifted the order at 3 p.m.

People disregarded police tape blocking Central Park entrances to run and bike, evading blown leaves and branches littering the roadway.

“It was just a big non-event,” Rob Kuchar, 28, a UBS banker, said while strolling the Hudson River waterfront about 1:45 p.m. “It was interesting to walk around the city and not see anybody, but at the end of the day, there were just some trees down and some rain.”

The storm, the first to prompt hurricane warnings in New York since 1985, made landfall in North Carolina two days ago and killed at least 18 on the East Coast. It left almost 6 million homes and businesses without power, according to the U.S. Energy Department. Damage will cost insurers about $2.6 billion, according to Kinetic Analysis Corp., a firm that predicts the effects of disasters.

Fatality, Floods

Among the dead was a 20-year-old woman in Pilesgrove, New Jersey, 35 miles (56 kilometers) southeast of Philadelphia, who police said got swept away in her car after calling for help.

The storm flooded homes across New Jersey’s Atlantic, Salem, Somerset, Union, Bergen, Essex and Passaic Counties.

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie said 50,000 state residents would leave shelters last night. He discouraged people from attempting this morning’s commute, and said New Jersey Transit trains into New York will be suspended today, while buses will operate on a modified schedule and PATH trains will reopen.

About 775,000 homes were without power, and some areas may have to wait five days or more to get service restored, Christie said at a news conference at state police headquarters in West Trenton.

‘Significant Flooding’

“The good news is we didn’t see any type of visible destruction to homes along the beach,” Christie said after touring the shore via helicopter. Also of concern is “the rest of the state, where we have significant flooding,” he said.

In Newark, police reported at least 15 rescues as water coursed through some streets. Of 50 trees the storm knocked down in the city, six took power lines down with them, Newark Mayor Cory Booker said.

By 4 p.m., New Jersey Manufacturers Insurance, the state’s third-largest home owners insurer, with 220,000 homes, had already received more than 2,500 claims for storm-related damage, Patrick Breslin, a spokesman, said in a statement. The company didn’t give an estimate of the damage.

A weakened Irene continued to New England, where Connecticut, Massachusetts and Rhode Island bore the brunt of the storm. Residents in coastal communities evacuated and hundreds of thousands lost power.

Connecticut Death

In Prospect, Connecticut, an unidentified woman in her 90s died and her husband was critically injured in a house fire caused by a tree limb falling on electrical wires, said Lieutenant P.J. Conway, a fire department spokesman.

New York City escaped without a fatality or major injury, Bloomberg said. Officials “made exactly the right call” when the MTA shut down subways, buses and regional commuter trains before the storm, he said.

While “it will be annoying” as the MTA returns the system to running condition, the mayor said he expected most operations to return by Tuesday, Aug. 30.

“Our No. 1 priority is protecting people,” he said. “When there is a real threat, we are going to err on the side of taking precautions.”

New York’s mayor is the founder and majority owner of Bloomberg News parent Bloomberg LP.

Manhattan ‘Lightly Affected’

Consolidated Edison Inc., New York’s power supplier, said the storm “lightly affected” Manhattan, allowing the utility to scrap a plan to shut off power to thousands of lower Manhattan customers out of concern for underground cables that could short out if flooded by a storm surge. More than 900,000 New York state customers lost electricity, Cuomo’s office said.

Signs of returning normality included the reopening of New Jersey’s Garden State Parkway; the opening of the Holland Tunnel, which had been partially closed due to flooding; and the reopening of New York City’s spans over the Hudson and East Rivers. Atlantic City casinos will open this morning, Christie said.

U.S. equity markets said they will open as usual. NYSE Euronext, Nasdaq OMX Group, Bats and Direct Edge Holdings LLC said they will open their U.S. venues, according to e-mailed statements.

City officials in Hoboken, New Jersey, told George Palermo, owner of S. Sullivan’s Bar and Grill on Washington Street, that he could reopen around 11:15 a.m. yesterday, he said in an interview. By 1:30 p.m. seats at the bar and outside tables were full, music was blasting and cars were passing by in the city of about 50,000 across from Manhattan.

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