By PAUL BENTLEY
Barely overflowing: The rivers broke their banks but New York is spared the worst of Irene
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 is already receding.
What hurricane? Revellers enjoy the downpour in Manhattan last night
As rain swept the streets this morning, Manhattan was turned into a ghost town. By mid-morning, he 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.
Playing: Revellers play in the puddles during Hurricane Irene in New York's Times Square last night
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
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.
Wet: The hockey players went out in the rain despite warnings to stay indoors
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.
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.
Brave: A cyclist looks on as water from New York Harbor washes over a sidewalk in Battery Park today
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.
On the streets of 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.
Splash: A car drives into a flooded area of lower Manhattan as Hurricane Irene closed in on the New York City today
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.'
Battered: Water from New York Harbor washes over a sidewalk in Battery Park this morning
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.'
While New York City escaped the worst, Irene has already battered the East Coast, claiming eleven 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.
Running: Gary Atlas, of Brighton Beach, N.Y., jogs along a pier at Coney Island in New York
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.
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
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.
Meanwhile, flood waters forced a storm shelter to be evacuated in Hoboken, which lies across the Hudson River from Manhattan.
Some damage: People wade through the water on a flooded section of 12th Avenue in New York today
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.
Underwater: Rainwater is seen collected beneath machinery at the World Trade Center today
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.
Lights out in New York City: Stretches of downtown Manhattan are submerged in darkness as almost 200,000 residents lost power after Hurricane Irene struck
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