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New Yorkers initially calm in face of Sandy, then worries set in

by
A man watches rising waters on the East River from Brooklyn as Hurricane Sandy made its approach in New York October 29, 2012. REUTERS/Andre
A man watches rising waters on the East River from Brooklyn as Hurricane Sandy made its approach in New York October 29, 2012. REUTERS/Andre

By Michelle Conlin

NEW YORK (Reuters) - As Hurricane Sandy aimed straight for them, promising to hammer the place they live with lashing winds and extensive flooding, New Yorkers seemed to be all about nonchalance on Monday morning - an attitude that didn't last into the afternoon.

Throughout Manhattan and Brooklyn, few store owners had even bothered to board up their buildings. There was little taping of windows or buying of sump pumps.

Many New Yorkers, who watched last year's Hurricane Irene taper away without taking a big toll on the city, seemed unfazed by predictions of major damage that even the most conservative of meteorologists have been making.

At most, many bought flashlights, lugged home bags of bottled water and stocked their shelves with food. Others took pride in snubbing Sandy altogether.

"You want to know what I have in my fridge?" said Chris Conway, a 41-year-old who lives in the Chelsea area of Manhattan, not far from the Hudson River. "Four different kinds of Tabasco and one jar of A-1 steak sauce."

Further south, though, the mood was more serious. Outside the Goldman Sachs headquarters building in Manhattan's Battery Park City, part of a low-lying area of the island evacuated on Sunday night, workers were blocking the entrance with sandbags piled up five feet high. A few employees, wearing Friday casual-style clothes, were coming and going through the revolving door. There were no residents to be seen.

A Duane Reade drug store, across the street from the landmark Trinity Church, was still well stocked - except for beer and sandwiches, which had been picked over. The same was true at delis throughout the city. In Jackson Heights, Queens, the shelves were stripped of bottled water at Met Foods.

Outside the shuttered New York Stock Exchange, which was barricaded with some sandbags, Anne Ngo and Evy Suwono were out for a stroll but found little drama. "It's a bit of a letdown, actually," said Ngo.

Outside the evacuation zone, the mood was de rigueur. For many working parents, facing school closures and an absence of many nannies because all subways and buses have stopped running, it felt like a holiday as they watched their kids get dirty in the playground.

From the once Bohemian enclave of Greenwich Village, all the way north to the Upper West Side of Manhattan, people were walking their dogs and chatting on their cell phones. Many could be found sipping espressos in the cafes abundant in the city.

At many restaurants and delis there were no lines but the bars were slammed.

DOGS SILENCED

In Brooklyn, the streets were atypically quiet. The normally noisy, braggadocio borough fell silent. Even the dogs had stopped barking. Gusts of wind trashed the leaves and cans skittered down the street.

All morning, Brooklyn felt bipolar. Down near the seashore, in neighborhoods like Red Hook, the streets were flooding. Grocery store shelves had been picked clean. The canyon-like streets were empty since the neighborhood had been evacuated the night before.

But up the slope, in neighborhoods like Boerum Hill, there was little sign of worry. The bars and restaurants were bustling. Bicyclists pedaled across the empty avenues. People in workout gear were huffing and puffing down the sidewalks for their daily jogs.

"We always run 4.5 miles, no matter what," said one runner who had just finished a workout with his two roommates. "There were a lot of us out here today."

At Building on Bond, a hipster haven in the area, the only difference from a regular, non-Sandy day was a limited menu. Employees had taken car services to work. A barista put out a tip can with the label: "Hurricane Relief Fund."

"We don't close," said Grace Hahn, owner of the deli Apple Gourmet. The only thing Hahn was close to running out of was Kombucha, the health drink with fermented mushrooms that has become the elixir to many of Brooklyn's yogis and vegans.

FLOAT AWAY

On the small island neighborhood of City Island in the Bronx, many people were blowing off the mandatory evacuation order issued by New York City officials. The narrow island, known for its seafood joints and maritime-themed knicknack shops, is home to an isolated, working-class community of New Yorkers who say they know big storms. Residents said they'd rather stay to look after their houses than leave and then be unable to get back when they wanted.

Joe Connelly, 52, who had just checked on his two motor boats at the City Island Marina, said he had watched a nearby dock get swamped. "We were concerned that the whole dock was going to float away and out to sea," he said.

Around noon, across the boroughs, the wind started to pick up. At the Bedouin Tent restaurant on Atlantic Avenue in Brooklyn, they had used cardboard to cover the windows. By 1 p.m., the wind was getting so strong that people who live on the top floors of brownstones could hear tree branches knocking at their windows.

At about 2 p.m., Hanson Place, an apartment building across the street from Brooklyn's new Barclays Center sports and entertainment complex, the windows started to shake. "I'm actually scared," said a resident of the 23rd floor. By mid afternoon, the wind had ripped the scaffolding off the building and residents on high floors started to evacuate. Nearby on Atlantic Avenue, a huge tree had snapped at its base.

In lower Manhattan, people were getting robo calls from electricity provider Consolidated Edison Inc, with word it might have to shut the power off.

Those who had departed for their weekend places in the Hamptons, the playground of Manhattan's rich, said the swells were starting to create flooding. A crane at the building of a luxury high-rise tower on 57th street in Manhattan collapsed.

By mid-afternoon, even the most hard-core were rattled. People were starting to get it. Sandy was no joke. Like the storm itself, the mood was shifting.

(Additional reporting by Emily Flitter, Luciana Lopez and Greg Roumeliotis; Editing by Martin Howell and Sandra Maler)

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