New Yorker Igor Katamadze says he isn’t too worried about the oncoming Hurricane Irene — but that’s only because he’s an immigrant from a country that has been plagued by war.
“As long as no one is shooting at each other, I’m the happiest man in the world,” said Katamadze, who is originally from Georgia, on the border with Russia.
He and his wife were among the hardy — or foolhardy — souls defying orders from New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg to evacuate from the lowest lying areas of the Big Apple.
About 370,000 people live in the evacuation zones, but Katamadze said it made more sense for him — and residents at the old people’s home in Coney Island where his wife works — to avoid the upheaval and stay put.
“We’ve got food and water,” he said.
Thousands of other people were less optimistic and quickly took up the offer of city shelters stationed in schools and other public buildings.
Coney Island, famous for a bustling fair ground and beach boardwalk during the summer, was deserted, and right across the city some shops reported runs on staples like milk, as well as batteries for flashlights.
At one shelter in Manhattan, about 100 people had taken up residence by early Saturday, some 12 hours before the hurricane was due to hit. They included couples, tourists and two women in wheelchairs.
“We got an order to evacuate from our building manager,” said Philippe Kridelka, the New York office head of the UN cultural organization UNESCO, at the shelter. “I came to see what’s happening. I have family visiting and we’re all here.”
In the financial district, where officials fear there could be serious flooding, Kathy Lee, 30, grabbed a bag and headed for higher ground.
“I learned I had to move yesterday by Internet. The building management sent us an e-mail telling us we had to leave. I’m going to the Upper West Side, to a friend’s house,” said Lee, who works in fashion.
Bloomberg has repeatedly told residents that they must obey the evacuation order, but police are not expected to force people out.
The slow build-up of storm clouds and widespread mistrust of the hype-loving television weather programs meant many New Yorkers were not convinced.
“I’m going to stay here. I’m going to sleep here. A lot of wind, a lot of water. That’s all. Things happen,” Harry Poulakakos, owner of Harry Cafe in the financial district, said. “Don’t worry too much.”
Coney Island residents Tim and Gina Abato ordered cold bottles of beer at one of the few bars still open on the beachfront, where wind was picking up but only a few drops of rain sprinkled down in the early afternoon.
Tim Abato, whose arms were tattooed with the mermaid icon of Coney Island, said he did not even consider leaving.
“Sure I’m a little concerned, but if I go somewhere else, I would be worried about every single thing I own here,” he said. His wife said they had enough supplies at home for at least two days.
Don John, who lives near Coney Island, strolled down with his sister Ann to take pictures of the largely deserted strip.
“I wanted to see Coney Island like it is in December, except not cold,” he said.
The Johns said they planned to abide reluctantly by the evacuation orders and stay with friends elsewhere nearby in the city.
“People are taking it seriously just because we’re supposed to be taking it seriously. We’ll get a lot of rain and wind, maybe some damage, but that’s it,” he said.
Ann John said city authorities wanted to take a tough stance after criticism of the handling of the winter blizzard.
“They’re just trying to cover their asses,” she said, echoing a common sentiment.