Chicago area natives in NYC react to Irene

August 28, 2011 8:29:27 PM PDT
Even though Irene was downgraded to a tropical storm, it still left behind flooding, downed trees and power outages along the East Coast.

So far, Tropical Storm Irene is blamed for at least 21 deaths. Early estimates say the storm has caused $7 billion in damage. Flooding appears to be the biggest problem in the Mid-Atlantic states. In New York City, the storm surge sent seawater into Lower Manhattan and elsewhere along the East Coast. Rivers are still rising, making many roads impassable.

Former Hyde Park resident Mark Benigno had to spend the night with friends because his apartment in Lower Manhattan was directly in the path of the storm.

"At 3 p.m. on Saturday, everyone had to be gone. They shut the power off, locked the building down, so you either had to leave, or they were going to lock you in the building with no power, no elevators," Benigno said.

Benigno stayed with his friend Norbert Paulsen from Barrington. They stocked up the kitchen and camped out, ready for Irene.

"We're in a high-rise, so I was really concerned that I have to take the dog out, and then going down the elevator if the power would be out because obviously there's not a lot of staff and I'd be waiting for maybe a couple of days, if it had gotten bad," Paulsen said.

Earlier Sunday, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg lifted the city's evacuation order, allowing 370,000 residents to return home. But flooding is still a major concern. Electric company crews could be seen pumping flood water out of underground transformers to prevent outages. At the height of the storm, in the New York region, nearly 400,000 were without power.

In Battery Park, a popular tourist destination for the view of the Statue of Liberty, tourists braved some significant wind but were grateful the flooding was not as bad as predicted.

"We filled our bathtub, stocked up on food, and we spent like 20 hours straight in the apartment waiting for stuff to happen and this was supposed to be the most dangerous place," said Valparaiso native Sam Brown.

"I'm very, very happy that nothing happened. That everything is OK," said tourist Andrea Aste.

"The people were advised, the police were ready, they were evacuating people earlier -- there was no reason for anyone to not be prepared to leave, so in that sense, I think it helped a lot," said Kevin Moore of Brooklyn.

New Yorkers concerned over Irene's impact on AM commute
The New York City subway system will be up and running for the start of the work week Monday morning, transit officials said, but some pieces of the country's largest transit system will remain idle while inspectors check for any damage from Tropical Storm Irene.

Yvonne Thompson lives in the Bronx and couldn't make it home Saturday night because of the transit shutdown. After another overnight shift Sunday night, she says may have trouble getting home Monday morning.

"I think they should find some other way to get us around, we live in the boroughs and need transportation," Thomson said. "It's terrible, but what can I say, it's New York!"

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority shut down all subways, buses and commuter trains Saturday in preparation for the storm. It was the first time a natural disaster ever closed the system down. On any given week day, New York City's subways cart about 5 million people, and commuters were left wondering how they would get to work.

"I'm very confused right now, I don't know when the subway is going to be back. I rely heavily on the subways, all I know it's going to take a lot of time for me to get to work," said commuter Doug Cralstein.

After the storm came and left Sunday afternoon, limited city bus service started, and Gov. Andrew Cuomo and MTA Chairman Jay Walder said subway service would start up at 6 a.m. Monday. They said service will be less frequent than normal and customers should expect longer waits and more crowded trains. Frequency of service will improve over the course of the day.

Commuter Francoise McIntyre has a creative backup plan for getting to work Monday morning.

"We're going to use a motorcycle because it's the only way to get around, it's fast and it's safe," McIntyre said.

The storm's lingering impact has left Charles Oliner and his family's plans in limbo.

"It's a major mess. It's going to be a major problem." Oliner said. "We have a little boy who relies on somebody to come and my wife relies on the commute, the train. I myself, I'm going to have to go to the hospital; I'm going to just drive."

"I think my own two feet are going to be the best mode of transportation," said Adam Janvey, who moved to New York from Chicago a few months ago.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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