By Serena Solomon and Patrick Hedlund
EAST VILLAGE — Police and city workers urged residents of public housing on Avenue D to evacuate the flood-prone area Saturday morning as Hurricane Irene continued its aggressive push toward New York City.
Cop cars and other emergency vehicles patrolled the block — home to the sprawling Jacob Riis and Lillian Wald Houses — as NYC Housing Authority workers herded residents onto buses headed for an evacuation center on Grand Street.
As locals filled nearby supermarkets and bodegas to pick up last-minute supplies like bottled water and canned food, some tenants said they planned to stay put despite a city order requiring residents in at-risk areas to evacuate their homes by 5 p.m. Saturday.
“Where the hell am I going to go?” asked Wald Houses tenant Pace Hernandez, 46, who lives with his 71-year-old mother in the complex. “I can’t leave my mother.”
He admitted that they could leave for a relative’s place nearby, but that he felt safe enough covering his windows and stocking up on emergency items like water and candles.
“Yeah, I’m worried. We could leave, but I don’t know — we’ll see what happens,” Hernandez said. “Maybe it hasn’t hit me yet.”
Commercial buses contracted by the city were scheduled to ferry residents from Avenue D to the evacuation center throughout the day — but NYCHA staffers on scene rued the low number of passengers leaving Saturday morning.
“Most residents are reluctant,” a Housing Authority worker said, while trying to round tenants for the trip. She said NYCHA staff did a door-knocking campaign on Friday to remind tenants they had to leave, but many weren’t complying.
“This is an 1,800-unit development,” she said of the Wald Houses, pointing to the 38 tenants staff had managed to get on one bus. “There’s a whole lot more than 38 people here.”
However, some did heed the evacuation order despite expressing disbelief that the storm would be as bad as advertised.
“You’re not going to see a hurricane coming down Avenue D,” said Mark Miller, 34, of Brooklyn, who was driving his mom, aunt and younger brother from the Riis Houses to a relative’s home in Mt. Vernon.
“It’s not going to happen.”
He added that people were aware of the hurricane for many days leading up to Saturday’s evacuation, but didn’t think of the potential danger until it was too late.
“People knew, but they didn’t expect it to come this fast,” Miller said. “People are going to stay here. How are they going to haul everybody out of here?”
Residents were slow to arrive at the evacuation center, set up inside Seward Park High School at 350 Grand St., Saturday morning, but began to trickle in as rain started coming down.
Workers had been unloading food — including chocolate milk, corn, ravioli, cereal, fruit and potato chips — at the center starting at 6:15 a.m. Saturday.
Clinton Street resident Yvette Riera, 58, came to location late that morning in a wheelchair accompanied by her service dog.
"I'm right by the water,” she said of her apartment, which lies outside the evacuation zone. “I'm really scared. I didn't sleep last night. My nerves are a wreck."
However, much of the larger neighborhood appeared unfazed by the impending storm, with some opting to enjoy a meal and cocktails instead of running for cover.
A block west of the evacuation efforts on Avenue D, popular brunch spot the Sunburnt Cow on East Ninth Street and Avenue C welcomed diners with its weekly all-you-can-drink deal.
“We’re going to help them get drunk — forget about the evacuation,” said assistant manager Daisy Seymour, as a bartender poured shots just after 11 a.m. “Roll with the hurricane.”
She did say the restaurant would close at 5 p.m. — the deadline for residents to evacuate.
“The fact that people are braving the weather, I’m pretty pumped,” Seymour added of the lighter-than-usual crowd. “We don’t close for anything.”
The same was true for East Village institution Ray’s Candy Store on Avenue A, which owner Ray Alvarez expected to keep open around the clock as usual.
Since all of Ray’s staff called in saying they couldn’t make it work, the 78-year-old planned to work through the day and night on both Saturday and Sunday.
“I used to be a Navy man — nine years — and I was always in the ocean,” said Alvarez, who’s owned the small shop for nearly four decades, adding he wasn’t worried at all about the potentially life-threatening storm. “This is peanuts.”
Over in Astor Place, straphangers boarded the last train of day before the MTA shut down mass transit at noon in advance of the storm.
Anthony Johnson, 29, who lives in the evacuation zone on East Seventh Street and Avenue D, grabbed the final train out of the station about 12:10 p.m. on his way to a friend’s house on the Upper East Side.
"My friends called me to make sure I didn't miss the last one,” he said, reflecting on how kind New Yorkers have been with the storm approaching.
"It’s like an event that everyone can share in,” he said. “It makes everyone really nice."