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New York Scrambles To Safety As Irene Nears

SCOTT SIMON, host: New York City officials have ordered the mandatory evacuation of roughly 370,000 people who live in low-lying areas of the city. Mayor Michael Bloomberg says that everybody living there should be gone by 5 pm today.

MICHAEL BLOOMBERG: Now, we've never done a mandatory evacuation before and we wouldn't be doing it now if we didn't think this storm had the potential to be very serious.

SIMON: Also unprecedented is the shutdown of the city's massive transit system, with Irene on track to reach the New York area by Sunday. Now, in a moment we'll hear from NPR's Jeff Brady on the hurricane preparations going on at the New Jersey shore. But first, Cindy Rodriguez of member station WNYC has this report from New York City.


CINDY RODRIGUEZ: Friday at rush hour, the only sign of the imminent shutdown were periodic announcements warning of no train service as of noon today. At a press conference, MTA Chairman Jay Walder pleaded with New Yorkers not to wait.

JAY WALDER: There is simply not capacity for everybody to get on the last train. The sooner that people make decisions to be able to leave, the better that it will be for everyone.

RODRIGUEZ: In Battery Park City, an affluent area on the southern tip of Manhattan, Kate Hayes and her four-year-old son Seth were already on their way to stay at a friend's country house in Westchester County.

KATE HAYES: What are we going to do in Westchester?

SETH HAYES: I don't know.

HAYES: Swim in the pool, play basketball. It's going to be fun. It's a party.

RODRIGUEZ: Hayes said she cleared all her belongings from her living and dining rooms out of fear a tree outside would come crashing through her window. Others were also taking precautions.


RODRIGUEZ: Luis Maldonado was using duct tape and blue painters tape on the glass windows of the Gourmet Market Deli.

LUIS MALDONADO: (Spanish spoken)

RODRIGUEZ: He said he had no other choice - all the woods boards were sold out.


RODRIGUEZ: Across the street at the Hallmark Battery Senior Living facility, residents in wheelchairs were lined up waiting to leave. Home health aide Regina Hubert had just put her 93-year-old patient on a van headed for New Jersey.

REGINA HUBERT: Yeah, I had to pack overnight and get his medication and clothing and stuff. So, he's all set.

RODRIGUEZ: Officials have been advising people to get out of low-lying areas while the weather is still good. Right now, all bridges and tunnels are open but officials say if winds exceed 60 miles an hour, the taller structures, like the Tappan Zee and the George Washington that leads into New Jersey, will close. For NPR News, I'm Cindy Rodriguez in New York. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.