Irene mostly spares New York, swamps Philadelphia area


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NEW YORK - As Irene made landfall here this morning, Manhattan got a good soaking but appeared spared from serious damage.

The storm was downgraded from hurricane to tropical storm shortly after it slammed into Coney Island. That was expected to push water toward southern Manhattan, but the Battery Park area showed only minimal flooding along the boardwalk area as rain slowed this morning.

That area, part of the mandatory evacuation order issued by New York City officials, drew photographers and some curious residents early today. An amateur photographer who identified himself as Andrew scoffed at the days of hype leading up to the storm.

"You can't find a bagel shop open on a Sunday morning," said the Chelsea resident as the sun peeked from behind clouds. "That's how you know it's supposed to be a bad storm."

PG VIDEO: Home Destroyed in Broad Channel, Queens

Others wandering the streets said they had seen few impacts, attributing the stern warnings from government officials to their not wanting to be seen as underprepared.

Much of Manhattan remained closed this morning, with the public transit system halted since Saturday. Some trees could be seen blocking lanes of streets, which were cordoned off with yellow tape.

Not all was quiet: Taxis were trolling the streets, and a smattering of pizza shops and delis were catering to hungry residents.

In Times Square, which was mostly deserted as the storm approached, crowds began to reappear shortly before noon.

Some flooding occurred in the Meatpacking District, on the west side of the borough near the Hudson River. Employees at the Brass Monkey, an Irish pub, pumped water out of the basement and removed plywood boards from the windows so they could get back to serving customers. Marisol de la Rosa, a manager there, said they stayed open as late as they could Saturday evening, and expected to reopen at noon today.

As the weather begins to subside in the New York area, Irene was drenching New England and headed to eastern Canada by nightfall.

At least 15 people have died as the hurricane moved up the Eastern Seaboard. It was downgraded to a tropical storm around 9 a.m. today.

In Pennsylvania, rain from the storm was falling as far west as Altoona this morning and most of the precipitation was concentrated in the central part of the state. In Philadelphia and southern New Jersey, the rain had stopped, and the trailing end of the storm was weakening.

The Philadelphia Inquirer described the region as "largely underwater and without power."

PG VIDEO: Queens, N.Y., Damage

Although the city was spared from high winds, flooding was causing dangerous conditions in and around the city. In suburban Montgomery County, boats were brought in overnight to try to get to people trapped by rising water in cars, homes and apartments.

The electric companies serving the region were reporting more than 600,000 customers without power, and said it could take up to two weeks to restore everything.

Mayor Michael Nutter announced that the city's emergency declaration would be lifted at noon and that SEPTA had begun restoring some service as of 10 a.m., including subway and trolley lines.

The Schuylkill River, at more than 12 feet, was overflowing its banks and expected to crest at more than 15 feet by 2 p.m., with major flooding expected in the region, which had saturated ground from earlier storms even before Irene happened along.

In Pittsburgh, which got nothing more than fluffy clouds and a few stiff breezes from Irene, the storm still had an impact. Flights from Pittsburgh International Airport to New York, Newark, Philadelphia, Hartford, Boston and Washington, D.C., were canceled today.


Laura Olson: lolson@post-gazette.com or 717-787-4254.


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