NYC waters rise to Irene levels before superstorm

By Tom Hays

Associated Press

Published: Monday, Oct. 29 2012 12:00 a.m. MDT

Waves crash over the bow of a tug boat as it passes near the Statue of Liberty in New York Monday, Oct. 29, 2012 as rough water as the result of Hurricane Sandy churned the waters of New York Harbor. Hurricane Sandy continued on its path Monday, forcing the shutdown of mass transit, schools and financial markets, sending coastal residents fleeing, and threatening a dangerous mix of high winds and soaking rain.

Craig Ruttle, Associated Press

NEW YORK — Waves splashed over the sea walls at the southern tip of Manhattan, already at Hurricane Irene levels Monday hours before the worst of a mammoth storm was to hit the nation's largest city with a wall of water that could reach 11 feet.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo closed two key tunnels to downtown Manhattan and the city canceled schools for a second day after shutting its mass transit system and ordering hundreds of thousands of people to leave their homes ahead of Hurricane Sandy's storm surge. While light rain fell steadily and several New Yorkers still bustled on the streets, officials warned residents to get out of the way.

"Don't be fooled, don't look out the window and say, it doesn't look so bad," Gov. Andrew Cuomo said. "The worst is still coming."

By midday Monday, minor flooding had affected some Long Island fishing villages and coastal towns, New York's Rockaway peninsula and a highway on the east side of Manhattan, officials said. More than 20,000 customers, mostly in Long Island, had lost power; most of the city's 3,600 outages were in Brooklyn.

The floor of the New York Stock Exchange was deserted in its first unplanned shutdown since the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks. Cuomo closed the flood-prone Brooklyn Battery and Holland Tunnels, by Monday afternoon. And Mayor Michael Bloomberg canceled school for the second day Tuesday, saying "there's no chance that mass transit will be back in time" by then.

As the worst of the storm still threatened to flood the subway system, lower Manhattan and flood-prone areas, the mayor urged stragglers from the 375,000 people he ordered out of waterfront areas to leave.

"Leave immediately. Conditions are deteriorating very rapidly and the window for you getting out safely is closing," he said.

On Monday, crowds gathered along the South Street Seaport, until police shooed them away. In Battery Park City, a complex of high-rise offices and apartment buildings erected on a landfill in lower Manhattan, holdouts watched as the Hudson rose and began to breach sections of scenic walkways along the river.

Many people were still out jogging, walking their dogs and even taking infants out in strollers amid gusts of wind.

Mark Vial pushed a stroller holding his 2-year-old daughter Maziyar toward the door of a building where they live on 15th floor.

"We're high up enough, so I'm not worried about flooding," he said. "There's plenty of food. We'll be ok."

Vial, 35, said his building had several holdouts. "The laundry room was packed last night," he said.

Some New Yorkers packed grocery stores for water and food and scrambled to get out of flood zones, while others insisted they weren't going anywhere.

At the South Street Seaport, where the East River was near the edge of the esplanade, brothers Justin and Adam Rashbaum were in shorts and deck shoes snapping images of the churning river. "It's a day off courtesy of Mother Nature," Adam Rashbaum said.

The storm, a predicted combination of Sandy, a wintry system moving in from the West and cold air streaming from the Arctic, could be most damaging because of the swelling waters.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's environmental protection chief, Louis Uccellini, called the projected storm surge "the worst-case scenario" for New York City, Long Island and northern New Jersey.

An 11-foot surge would flood subway tunnels with damaging saltwater, and knock out the underground network of power, phone and high-speed Internet lines that are the lifeblood of America's financial capital.

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