By Mathew Katz and Tom Liddy
MANHATTAN — Zuccotti Park turned into a ghost town Tuesday night as many Occupy Wall Street protesters, facing the prospect of their first night without sleeping gear and a chance of rain, sought shelter elsewhere.
Earlier in the afternoon, after they were given the all-clear to reenter their Lower Manhattan encampment, hundreds of joyous protesters packed into the park, near the World Trade Center.
But hours later, there was a good deal of confusion among the demonstrators who remained about whether they would be allowed to sleep in the space.
Rules posted at the perimeter of the park prohibit "lying down on the ground or lying down on benches, sitting areas or walkways which unreasonably interferes with the use of such areas."
Much of the crowd had dispersed by midnight, with many going to crash on friends' couches and some staying in local churches. Others caught some shuteye in a nearby McDonald's.
But several protesters stood their ground and were spotted snoozing while sitting up or even resting their heads on raised platforms. Still others milled around amidst workers for Brookfield Properties, the owner of the park.
For the most part, demonstrators were allowed to stretch out during the night, but tensions rose around 5 a.m. when police and an official walked around the park waking the dozen or so protesters who were still asleep.
"I got very rudely woken up by someone tapping at my shoe saying, 'You've got a sleeping bag, you're out,'" said Leina Bocar, 31, an artist from Brooklyn, adding that her sleeping bag was tossed over a barricade though she was allowed to remain.
"It's the principle of it that's so bad — harassing a woman, harassing someone who is sleeping at 5 a.m.," she said.
Protesters began shouting at cops and one, who gave his name as Frank, 25, of Hudson County, NJ, claimed that he was shoved against the barricades that ring the park by the official.
Three hours earlier police shook a man awake and took a blanket from Donna Garcia, 49, of Brooklyn.
"I’m gonna freeze and complain but I’m not gonna sleep, especially without my blankets," she said.
"If I put my head down for a second, the cops fly in for me. I’ve been on my feet for 12 hours now. I’m passing out from exhaustion."
Temperatures were mild — 59 degrees as of 1:30 a.m. — but there were periods of drizzle. When the rain began to fall Wednesday morning, even more people cleared out, despite protesters giving garbage bags to those who stayed behind.
"I came here a few weeks ago and saw all the tents — it was so well organized and they didn't need me. Now, they really need more people," said Rayson, 24, a University of Toronto student from Yonkers.
"I don't know how many people are here on a normal night, but if it is less tonight, what it says is that people are friggin' exhausted from last night."
To pass the time, some performed freestyle rap and worked on their laptops. Others passed out tea.
For Izzie Creo, 30, of Brooklyn, the prospect of sleeping under the stars in Zuccotti was a little bit too much to bear.
"I'm here for a while. I just drank a big cup of Starbucks," she said. "Sleeping here is another story though. I'm not big into sleeping in public."
Hans, of Queens, who did not want to give his last name, said that he did not want to push his luck with the cops after the confrontation earlier in the day.
"I've never slept here, but there'll be no sleeping here tonight," he said. "I'm always apprehensive about the police, and today they've definitely given us a show."
But Logan Price, 28, of Seattle, who was one of the protesters kicked out of the park early Tuesday morning, said that he would try to stick it out.
"I don't buy any of this stuff that there are grounds for not letting people sleeping here. If you can't have a sleeping bag, we have away around it — an emergency blanket, that's not a sleeping bag," he said.
"But I have to make a decision, to stay here or to go to friends. If it rains and I didn't have any tarp to sleep under, that'd be tough. But it's warm out tonight, and that's a blessing."
Price had been staying at the park for about a month with his girlfriend Lauren Thorpe, 26, of New York, who planned to stay with friends.
"We have to be fluid as a movement," he said. "For our movement to be effective, we have to be able to shift tactics. This [not being able to sleep here] is a shift in tactics."
Late Tuesday night, portion of the demonstrators marched up to Centre Street near the Municipal Building to rally against reports that female demonstrators were ogled while they were not fully clothed in jail, the Daily News said.
While the situation remained relatively quiet for the hundred or so protesters who remained at Zuccotti Park early Wednesday morning, there were a couple of flash points.
One woman who was trying to incite other protesters to yell inside the park was asked to leave by cops.
And a man was taken away from the park on a stretcher after receiving medical attention.
Another protester was taken into police custody amid allegations that he had pushed a woman.
Creo said that she had been hit in the head by the man at Foley Square earlier in the day.
"He ended up hitting me in the head," she said. "So I saw him just now push another woman, and I went to get the cops to get him out of here."
Cops said that a man was in custody, but had not been charged.