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N.Y. City closes as Irene threatens Thousands leave, streets deserted

By late Saturday, New York just wasn't itself anymore.

All 25,000 garbage cans were turned upside down and shoved against buildings. The subways and buses were idle. Theaters, parks and airport departure gates were closed. Even a Starbucks on Madison Avenue didn't open. And if you had a D battery, you could name your price.

As Hurricane Irene barreled toward New York, it was as quiet as a Christmas morning -- only scarier.

Presented with a potential disaster that afforded some prep time, New Yorkers took full advantage of two days of warnings and unprecedented orders. Many of the 370,000 residents living in low-lying areas did as they were told and evacuated. And, knowing the mass transit system would grind to a halt starting at noon, people got where they had to go.

Throughout the day, city officials continued to emphasize the big fears: High winds that would knock out windows and topple trees, and water surges that threatened to submerge lower Manhattan and shut down Wall Street into this week.

Con Ed officials said they had already shut off certain steam pipes in the Wall Street area Saturday, and if the East River breached its banks and saltwater seeped into equipment, they would power down completely, which would affect 6,500 customers.

A spokesman for the utility said if that happened "it would be a couple of days" before the company could turn back on the power. The New York Stock Exchange has backup generators and can run on its own, a spokesman told the Associated Press.

The prospect of no power and other problems raised by Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg had New Yorkers waiting in long lines outside grocery stores to buy everything from batteries to bread and hamburger meat. They were also nailing plywood to their front doors and piling sandbags on their streets.

In parts of Brooklyn, normally busy streets were virtually empty. Shopkeepers taped window panes. Playgrounds were deserted and the usual sounds of a warm summer weekend -- music drifting from open windows, children squealing, televisions blaring from bars -- were gone as people closed their windows against the approaching storm.

In Times Square, normally bustling on a Saturday afternoon in advance of Broadway matinees, theatergoers were left to wander the streets in search of something to do. At the American Eagle store on 46th Street, a line formed around the block, as tourists waited to enter one of the few businesses that remained open.

In Chelsea, brunch venues such as Moran's Restaurant on 10th Avenue packed outdoor tables under awnings as the rain stopped and started again.

At least one restaurant, however, wasn't taking any chances. At the trendy Half King bar on 23rd Street near the Hudson River, the door was locked and the windows were boarded. Perhaps the caution was a function of its owner: he is Sebastian Junger, author of "The Perfect Storm."

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