NEW YORK (AP) — For once, this was a city that slept.
Hurricane Irene bore down on a dark and quiet New York early Sunday, bringing winds and rapidly rising seawater that threatened parts of the city. The rumble and squeal of the subway system was silenced for the first time in years, the city all but shut down for the strongest tropical lashing since the 1980s.
Irene weakened after landfall over the North Carolina coast Saturday, but it was still a massive storm with sustained winds of up to 80 mph as it approached Manhattan. Even worse, Irene's fury could coincide with a tide that's higher than normal. Water levels were expected to rise as much as 8 feet.
Forecasters said there was a chance a storm surge on the fringes of Lower Manhattan could send seawater streaming into the maze of underground vaults that hold the city's cables and pipes, knocking out power to thousands and crippling the nation's financial capital. Officials' worst fear was water lapping at Wall Street, ground zero and the luxury high-rise apartments of Battery Park City. Tornadoes were also a possibility.
In Times Square, shops boarded up windows and sandbags were stacked outside of stores. Construction at the World Trade Center site came to a standstill.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg ordered more than 370,000 people out of low-lying areas, mostly in Lower Manhattan, Brooklyn and Queens. Only 8,700 people checked-in to shelters and an untold number defied the order.
"Oh, forget Bloomberg. We ain't going anywhere," 60-year-old Evelyn Burrus said at a large public housing complex in Brooklyn. "Go to some shelter with a bunch of strangers and bedbugs? No way."
Late Saturday, Bloomberg said it was no longer safe to be outside.
"The time for evacuation is over. Everyone should now go inside and stay inside," he said.
Many New Yorkers took the evacuation in stride. Some planned hurricane parties.
"We already have the wine and beer, and now we're getting the vodka," said Martin Murphy, a video artist who was shopping at a liquor store near Central Park with his girlfriend.
If it lasts, we have dozens of movies ready, and we'll play charades and we're going to make cards that say, 'We survived Irene,'" he said.
The center of the storm was supposed to pass east of Manhattan about midmorning. The wind and rain wasn't to taper off until Sunday afternoon.
All subway, bus and commuter rail service was shuttered so officials could get equipment safely away from flooding, downed trees or other damage. It was the first time the nation's biggest transit system has shut down because of a natural disaster.
Boilers and elevators also were shut down in public housing in evacuation areas to encourage tenants to leave and to prevent people from getting stuck in elevators if the power went out.
Some hotels also shut off their elevators and air conditioners. Others had generators ready to go.
At a shelter in the Park Slope section of Brooklyn, public housing residents arrived with garbage bags filled with clothing; others pushed carts loaded with their belongings.
Tenants said management got them to leave by telling them the water and power would be shut off.
"For us, it's him," said Victor Valderrama, pointing to his 3-year-old son. "I didn't want to take a chance with my son."
Con Edison brought in hundreds of extra utility workers from around the country. While the foot of Manhattan is protected by a seawall and a network of pumps, Con Ed vice president John Mucci said the utility stood ready to turn off the power to about 17,000 people in the event of severe flooding.
Mucci said it could take up to three days to restore the power if the cables became drenched with saltwater, which can be particularly damaging. The subway system, which carries 5 million passengers on an average weekend, wasn't expected to restart until Monday at the earliest.
The New York Stock Exchange has backup generators and can run on its own, a spokesman said.
Con Ed also shut down about 10 miles of steam pipes underneath the city to prevent explosions if they came in contact with cold water. The shutdown affected 50 commercial and residential customers around the city who use the pipes for heat, hot water and air conditioning.
As Irene passes by, tides are astronomically higher than usual. The phenomenon adds about a half a foot to high tides, said Stephen Gill, a scientist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The storm surge was likely to be as much as 4 to 8 feet.
More than 8.3 million people live in New York City, and nearly 29 million in the metropolitan area.
A hurricane warning was issued for the city for the first time since Gloria in September 1985. That storm blew ashore on Long Island with winds of 85 mph and caused millions of dollars in damage, along with one death in New York.
City police rescued two kayakers who capsized in the surf off Staten Island. They were found with their life jackets on, bobbing in the roiling water.
The area's three major airports — LaGuardia, Kennedy and Newark Liberty — were closed. With the subways closed, many were left to hail taxis. To encourage cab-sharing and speed the evacuation, passengers were charged not by the mile but by how many different fare "zones" their trip crossed.
Dozens of buses arrived at the Brooklyn Cyclones minor league ballpark in Coney Island to help residents get out. Nursing homes and hospitals were emptied.
At a shelter set up at a high school in the Long Island town of Brentwood, Alexander Ho calmly ate a sandwich in the cafeteria. Ho left his first-floor apartment in East Islip, even though it is several blocks from the water, just outside the mandatory evacuation zone.
"Objects outside can be projected as missiles," he said. "I figured my apartment didn't seem as safe as I thought, as every room has a window."
Associated Press Writers Jennifer Peltz, Amy Westfeldt, Verena Dobnik, Tom Hays, Meghan Barr, David B. Caruso, Colleen Long and Deepti Hajela in New York contributed to this report.