Police toured flood-threatened districts of New York on Monday almost begging tens of thousands of hurricane refuseniks to move away from a looming mega-storm.
With New York at a near standstill ahead of a predicted storm surge of up to 11 feet (3.5 meters) of seawater, police with loud hailers and special buses toured Rockaway Beach appealing for people to move away.
But residents walked their dogs and some took photos of waves sending water across the beach boardwalk. One police bus managed to get just two passengers.
New York authorities issued a mandatory evacuation order for 375,000 people in the high risk areas. But only 3,000 people, with 73 pets, had moved into the 76 emergency shelters opened for the storm, Mayor Michael Bloomberg said.
Malcolm Smith, a Democratic member of the state senate, estimated that 80 percent of Rockaway Beach inhabitants had ignored the order.
He said they were wrong as the flooding was already higher than for Hurricane Irene last year and will get much worse. “They need to pack up their families and move away,” Smith said.
The New York mayor said it may be too late however as wind speeds and seas rose. Thousands of people in New York suburbs lost power before the worst of the storm had hit.
“Conditions are deteriorating very rapidly and the window for getting out safely is closing,” Bloomberg told a press conference. “It’s getting too late to leave.”
New York state governor Andrew Cuomo said the latest flood predictions were “troublesome” and criticized people who go to the beach to take pictures.
Bloomberg has said those who stay behind were “selfish” and putting at risk the lives of emergency workers who could have to launch a rescue operation.
Manhattan streets were mainly empty as the first rain from the storm started falling and winds increased.
The New York Stock Exchange ordered an emergency closure for the first time since the September 11, 2001 attacks. All subway trains and buses were halted at least until Wednesday.
Authorities ordered two of the main tunnels taking traffic off Manhattan to close on Monday afternoon and have also called up an extra 1,000 National Guard troops on top of 1,100 mobilized Sunday.
Schools and landmark attractions such as the Empire State Building were all closed. Hardly a car ventured onto the streets.
Only the hardiest store-owners stayed open. Most supermarkets had been stripped of batteries, pocket lamps, bread and water amid widespread fears of power cuts.
David Blythe, an official with an international student exchange organization, lives in Brooklyn but booked himself into a Manhattan hotel.
“I have meetings I could not miss,” he said as he ate breakfast in one of the rare eateries open.
Albert Mustaj, a doorman at The Caroline, an elegant apartment block on 23rd Street, said all staff at the building had been asked to stay for three days.
But he was not nervous. “I come from Montenegro, I’ve seen worse,” he said.
Candace Ruland, a 67-year-old inhabitant of the Battery Park district, said she left for Hurricane Irene last year. “I went uptown and I had a nice dinner with a lot of wine. This year I just decided to stay,” she said.
Martha Kowalczyk, a 27-year-old school worker, took advantage of the forced day off to take her dog for a walk.
“I come from Indiana, I’ve been through tornadoes and stuff, we’ll never get that here,” she said.