By Paul Bentley and Oliver Tree
Manhattan appears to have escaped the worst of Hurricane Irene, with deserted city streets already drying off from amounts of rain and wind far less extreme than expected.
After hundreds of thousands fled in anxious anticipation this weekend, Irene arrived last night as more of a heavy thunder storm than a devastating hurricane.
In the city, projected winds of 75mph hit at closer to 40mph and while streets in lower Manhattan briefly flooded, the water has already receded.
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What's news? A man canoes to try get a newspaper in Soho on West Broadway in lower Manhattan
Barely overflowing: The rivers broke their banks but New York is spared the worst of Irene
What hurricane? Revellers enjoy the downpour in Manhattan last night
Playing: Revellers play in the puddles during Hurricane Irene in New York's Times Square last night
As rain swept the streets this morning, Manhattan was turned into a ghost town. By mid-morning, the city itself was, however, largely unaffected by the huge problems faced elsewhere.
About 200,000 New Yorkers have been left without power, but they are mainly residents on Staten Island, Queens and the outer suburbs.
Experts had warned that a storm surge on the fringes of Lower Manhattan could send seawater into the maze of underground vaults that hold the city's cables and pipes, knocking out power to thousands and crippling Wall Street, Ground Zero and the luxury high-rise apartments of Battery Park City. Tornadoes were thought to have been a possibility but the warning is now limited to areas in Brooklyn and Queens.
With both the East and Hudson Rivers breaking their banks, power could be cut to thousands in the city if flooding reaches dangerous levels.
Party time: Hockey players from Vancouver, British Columbia, play an impromptu hockey game at Times Square
Wet: The hockey players went out in the rain despite warnings to stay indoors
Resourceful: These two joggers in Central Park, New York, use a fallen tree to stretch before their work out
Such a scenario is, though, most likely to pose a serious threat to the Rockaways, Coney Island and South Beach.
The storm finally arrived last night after days of preparation and anxious anticipation.
Home owners boarded up windows, filled bath tubs with emergency water and went panic shopping for days worth of food and drink, expecting the very worst from Irene.
In an unprecedented move, Mayor Michael Bloomberg ordered the mandatory evacuation of hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers, including the infirm at five New York hospitals most at risk from the hurricane.
Brave: A cyclist looks on as water from New York Harbor washes over a sidewalk in Battery Park today
Splash: A car drives into a flooded area of lower Manhattan as Hurricane Irene closed in on the New York City today
Battered: Water from New York Harbor washes over a sidewalk in Battery Park this morning
The massive operation was carried out over the course of 12 hours on Friday and involved moving intensive care patients and premature babies in their incubators.
Only ten patients were kept at New York University Hospital as their conditions were so critical, to move them was considered more dangerous.
This morning, however, New Yorkers woke up to scenes far less serious than projected.
Both the Hudson and East Rivers overflowed but water had already started receding by 10am. A flood surge had been expected to reach 8ft, but just 1ft washed onto the streets.
Running: Gary Atlas, of Brighton Beach, N.Y., jogs along a pier at Coney Island in New York
Wading: Captain Jon Jedlicka, right, and John Murray check storm damage along a dock as it is battered by the storm surge and winds from Hurricane Irene in Montauk, New York
And what's the umbrella for? A woman braves deep flood water in Soho, Manhattan
Just having a chat: Locals shoot the breeze while ankle deep in flood water in New York City
Not going anywhere fast: A man tried to ride his bicycle through flood water in lower Manhattan this morning
In Lower Manhattan, where residents were warned to stay indoors and shops had shut up in panic, a few puddles and heavy rainfall did not stop people taking out there dogs for early morning walks.
In total, the city had received 176 reports of downed trees or branches across the five boroughs.
By mid-morning, the rain had completely stopped, leaving a sense of eerie calm over the abandoned city.
Residents took to social networking sites to express their sense of relief and anti-climax.
Mike Ruddick wrote: 'Is Irene the biggest hurricane that never was #ireneoverreaction.'
Stuart Millar, who had spent money panic shopping, added: 'For sale: 10 gallons of spring water, batteries (all sizes) and 200 candles (as new). Best offer accepted #irene.'
Sarah Wright 45, a dancing teacher from England said: ‘Obviously being in Manhattan I was scared, but I knew we were out of the danger zone.
‘My flight has been cancelled and now I have to stay until Wednesday.
‘I was worried when I saw people panic buying in the shops but, some store owners stayed open despite the rain.
‘I do feel for the people that have lost their homes in the flooding.’
Jim Lehan, in his mid 60’s , said: ‘What storm! We spent the night at our house on Elizabeth Street.
‘We filled up the bath tub with water, we also went shopping on Friday which we normally don’t do.
‘What they do in New York is they over react, they really do so this is not a surprise.
His wife Jill added: ‘They shut down the subway, he [Bloomberg] wanted to cover his bases.
‘You have to warn people, it was huge. We haven’t had one like that for a long time.’
Wisconsin-based Stephanie Ely , 31, told MailOnline: ‘If I was a tourist I would be very bummed right now – everything is closed and there isn’t much to do.’
‘Saying that, I am glad they made such a big deal about it though.’
Camille Mathieux, 19, from Brussles said: ‘It is not that big, all the news stations made it into such a big event.
‘The hotel we were staying in told us to stay in our rooms all day, and we bought some extra food to stock up just in case.
‘People were taping up their windows of their shops and in the end this was unnecessary.
'‘It was definitely hyped.’
Felled: Five trees were knocked over by high winds from Hurricane Irene in front of the East River Cooperative Village apartment buildings along Grand Avenue in New York
Some damage: People wade through the water on a flooded section of 12th Avenue in New York today
Underwater: Rainwater is seen collected beneath machinery at the World Trade Center today
While New York City escaped the worst, Irene has already battered the East Coast, claiming 12 lives so far, ripping trees from the ground and leaving millions without power.
An 11-year-old boy in Virginia was killed when a tree fell through the roof of his house and a child died in a car crash at an intersection in North Carolina where traffic lights were out.
More than three million people from South Carolina to Maryland were without power as the giant 580-mile-wide storm brought widespread flooding and high winds that knocked down power lines.
Almost half a million homes were without power in New Jersey with utilities companies saying it could take days to restore service.
A nuclear reactor shut down in Maryland after a transformer was reportedly damaged by flying debris. Constellation Energy Nuclear Group described it as a low-level emergency and said the plant remained stable. Communications director Mark Sullivan said here was no threat to employees or residents.
Clear up: People use buckets to remove water from a flooded Chelsea Apartment in New York
Community spirit: People pitch in to help clear the flooded apartment in Chelsea, Manhattan
Meanwhile, flood waters forced a storm shelter to be evacuated in Hoboken, which lies across the Hudson River from Manhattan.
All subway service has been suspended because of the threat of flooding in the tunnels - the first time in history the nation's biggest transit system has shut down because of a natural disaster. Sandbags and tarps were placed on or around subway grates.
Authorities shut down the Port of New York and the Port for Long Island Sound. The Palisades Interstate Parkway entrance to the George Washington Bridge was also closed due to the worst weather conditions to threaten the city since the 1980s.
In his final address on Saturday night at 10.30pm, Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced a tornado warning for New York and said that the time for evacuation was over. He advised people to stay indoors and make preparations.
Mayor Bloomberg warned New York's eight million residents that a storm surge in the city at 8am could lead to widespread blackouts.
He said: 'The edge of the hurricane has finally got upon us. No matter how tempting it is to say ''I was outside during the storm'' ... stay inside. We'd like to get through this with as minimal damage to human beings as possible, and after that property, but it's human lives we are really worried about.'
So far 11 people have died from hurricane Irene. A man in Onslow County, North Carolina suffered a heart attack and died while boarding up his windows, according to the Charlotte Observer. A man in Nash County was killed outside his house after he was struck by a tree limb picked up by the strong winds.
Sheriff Dick Jenkins told WRAL.com that the man, who was not identified, went to feed his animals outside his Nashville, North Carolina home, when a tree or branch fell on him.
In Florida, a surfer was killed when he was knocked off his board at New Smyrna Beach, where surfers had flocked to take advantage of 10-foot waves.
'It appears he went over a wave and might have gone head first into the ground,' Tammy Marris, a spokeswoman for the Volusia County Beach Patrol, told the Daytona Beach News-Journal.
Two additional people died in car accidents in North Carolina on Saturday night as a result of the hurricane. Another man died in Chesterfield County, Virginia, after a tree fell on his home.
In Queenstown, Maryland, a woman died after a tree knocked a chimney through the roof of her home, crushing her.
The Mayor warned New Yorkers that Irene was a life-threatening storm and urged them to stay indoors to avoid flying debris, flooding or the risk of being electrocuted by downed power lines.
'It is dangerous out there,' he said, but added: 'New York is the greatest city in the world and we will weather this storm.'
Words of warning: A pedestrian takes a risk as roads are closed and barricades raised in Lower Manhattan with Hurricane Irene expected to bear down on the city today
Slim pickings: A shopper makes the most of the cereals on offer as milk and bread supplies ran out in New York stores
Eye of the storm: A NASA photo taken from the International Space Station shows the size of hurricane Irene
Huge: Hurricane Irene is due to affect some 20 per cent of the U.S. population as the giant tropical storm moved along the East Coast
Times Square, often called the crossroads of the world, was almost deserted as shops boarded up windows and put sandbags outside entrances.
'We just came to see how few people are in Times Square and then we're going back,' said Cheryl Gibson, who was on holiday in the city.
Construction work came to a standstill and workers at the World Trade Centre site dismantled a crane and secured equipment. Mayor Bloomberg said there would be no effect on the opening of the September 11 Memorial to mark the 10th anniversary of the terrorist attacks.
Power company Con Edison brought in hundreds of extra utility workers from around the country. While Lower Manhattan is protected by a seawall and a network of pumps, Con Ed vice president John Mucci said they stood ready to turn off the power to about 6,500 customers in the event of severe flooding. Mr Mucci said it could take up to three days to restore the power if the cables became drenched in saltwater.
A spokesman for the New York Stock Exchange said it was prepared for the worst with its own backup generators.
Some 370,000 city residents were ordered to leave their homes in low-lying areas in the boroughs of Brooklyn, Queens and Manhattan. However many were unwilling to evacuate. Nicholas Vigliotti, 24, an auditor who lives in a high-rise building along the Brooklyn waterfront, said he saw no point.
'Even if there was a flood, I live on the fifth floor,' he said.
Hours earlier, the normally bustling streets had emptied out and the rumble of the subways came to a stop.
Many residents seemed to be taking it in their stride, staying off the streets but planning hurricane get-togethers and hot tub parties.
'We already have the wine and beer, and now we're getting the vodka,' said Martin Murphy, a video artist who was shopping at a liquor store near Central Park with his girlfriend. 'If it lasts, we have dozens of movies ready, and we'll play charades and we're going to make cards that say, "We survived Irene''.
Unbelievable sight: Two men push a cart through a normally bustling Grand Central Terminal
Completely soaked: A Hasidic Jew makes his way home as heavy rain falls in Brooklyn, New York, late Saturday night
Yesterday New York governor Andrew Cuomo doubled the number of National Guard soldiers deployed to New York City to 1,900.
The troops, who have been mobilised from across the state, will assist with traffic control on bridges and tunnels, sandbagging operations at the World Trade Center site, evacuation shelter operations in New York, the construction of barriers for railway yards and train tunnels, and other hurricane emergency efforts.
The city opened more than 90 evacuation shelters with room for about 70,000 people.
But by early evening, only about 5,500 had checked in, officials said. At one shelter set up in a high school in the Park Slope section of Brooklyn, residents arrived carrying bags filled with clothing and pushing carts loaded with their belongings.
Many had been evacuated from a housing project in Brooklyn's Red Hook area. Tenants said management had forced them to leave by telling them the water and power would be shut off at 5 pm.
'For us, it's him,' said Victor Valderrama, pointing to his three-year-old son. 'I didn't want to take a chance with my son.'
Con Ed shut down ten miles of steam pipes underneath the city to prevent explosions if they came in contact with cold water. The shutdown affected 50 commercial and residential customers around the city who use the pipes for heat, hot water and air conditioning.
Irene came ashore in North Carolina on Saturday morning, slightly weakened but still powerful, and was expected to roll up the densely populated Interstate 95 corridor.
More than 8.3 million people live in New York City, and nearly 29 million in the metropolitan area.
A hurricane warning was issued for the city Friday afternoon, the first 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 - closed at noon to arriving flights. Departing flights were to be shut down by 10pm. Subway trains began grinding to a halt at noon.
The transit system won't reopen until at least Monday, after pumps remove water from flooded stations. The subways routinely flood during even ordinary storms and have to be pumped out.
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