By Jill Colvin, Andrea Swalec and Tom Liddy
BROOKLYN — Mayor Michael Bloomberg warned New Yorkers to head for cover as winds and rain from deadly Hurricane Irene began to pound the city and National Guard troops patrolled the streets.
“The edge of the hurricane finally got upon us and conditions are expected to deteriorate rapidly,” a tired-looking mayor told reporters at the Office of Emergency Management headquarters in Brooklyn before heading home Saturday night.
After days of urging residents to flee low-lying areas, he said time was up.
“The time for evacuation is over,” he said. “Everyone should now go inside and be prepared to stay inside until weather conditions approve,” which he said could be as late as Sunday afternoon.
Around 9,600 people spent the night in city shelters, following the mass evacuation of low-lying levels at risk of floods. Some 2,000 National Guard troops were also mobilized, with armored vehicles lining Lexington Avenue outside the 69th Regiment Armory near 25th Street in Gramercy.
"I am absolutely floored. It is surreal," said Amy Bridges, 55, of seeing tanks sitting on her block.
"I feel safe to see them here, but I worry about the expense," she said.
Bob Brown, 54, real estate developer, who lives on Lexington Avenue, said said he hadn't seen this many troops out since 9/11.
"I think they're there first in case people need help and second in case there's looting," he said. "Better to be safe than sorry."
In addition to tropical winds and pounding rain, a tornado watch and flood warning was also issued for all five boroughs. The hurricane has already killed nine people on the Eastern seaboard, according to Reuters.
Early Sunday morning, the southbound lanes of the FDR Drive were shut due to flooding. More than 4 inches of rain had fallen on Central Park as of 5 a.m., according to OEM.
Manhattan was spared power outages and downed trees early Sunday while nearly 15,000 were left in the dark across the five boroughs, OEM said.
As residents hunkered down across Manhattan, officials rattled off a list of precautions to help them stay safe. The mayor urged residents to stay away from windows, which could shatter in high winds and to seek shelter in tall buildings below the tenth floor.
In addition to the initial impact of the storm, officials have warned that parts of lower Manhattan, including Wall Street, could be left without power for as long as three days if a storm surge forces the utility to shut down two of its networks as a precaution.
"It's conceivable that in downtown Manhattan, there will be no electricity as well as water in the streets," Bloomberg warned early Saturday.
ConEd officials are expected to make a final decision about the shutdown before the storm surge at 8 a.m.
To prepare for a potential shutdown, residents were advised to fill their sinks and bathtubs with water, keep flashlight handy, and charge cell phones now. Residents were also warned to be especially vigilant when lighting candles because of the risk of fire and potential emergency response delays.
He warned people to remain vigilant Sunday morning because of the potential of falling branches and debris.
“Tomorrow morning when you wake up, whatever the conditions are, please stay inside,” he said.
“There’s just too many things blowing around.”
But the mayor insisted that New Yorkers would take the storm in stride and dismissed the idea that taxi drivers or shop owners selling high-demand items like bread would gouge.
“You know I’m sure there’s one or two people, but basically New Yorkers don’t do that type of thing,” he said. “That’s not the New York way and that’s not what I’d expect to find.”
He also dismissed fears of looting in evacuated areas.
“This is New York. We don’t have that sort of thing," he said, adamantly. “I don’t expect that to be an issue. That’s just not the New York of today.”