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Close calls as New York floods rush in
by Staff Writers
New York (AFP) Aug 28, 2011

Irene downgraded to tropical storm
New York (AFP) Aug 28, 2011 - Irene weakened to tropical storm status Sunday as it hit New York City, the National Hurricane Center said, but the still powerful storm was flooding parts of lower Manhattan.

The Miami-based storm center downgraded the storm from a category one hurricane at 9:00 am (1300 GMT).

"Irene has weakened to a tropical storm and the estimated intensity at landfall was 65 miles per hour (104 kilometers)," the hurricane center said on its website.

"Center of Irene moves over New York City," it said.

The storm lashed Manhattan skyscrapers and caused storm surges that sent water flooding into lower Manhattan and inundating outlying communities, after killing at least nine people along the US east coast.

The rain started to taper off, the sun began to come out of hiding and then with a sudden ferocity, dirty sea water poured into the New York coastline, sweeping up motorists who raced for safety.

Save for a few motorists and the homeless, the beachfront beachside strip of Coney Island was deserted on Sunday morning after sweeping evacuation orders by New York authorities in preparation for Hurricane Irene.

Many residents had earlier voiced cynicism about the evacuation, and the skies appeared to clear over Coney Island. But at 8:45 am (1245 GMT), the water level rose by the second, bringing sudden chaos to the quiet streets.

An ocean of dirty sea water -- along with tree branches, discarded paper bags and other litter -- gushed through from the beach, the site of amusement rides and the Nathan's hot dog stand famed for its July 4 eating competitions.

Roads that appeared dry and safe seconds earlier came underwater, with the few motorists on the road forced to make split-second decisions on which way to move, trying to guess which streets were on higher ground, and for how long.

Several drivers who had been traveling peacefully were forced to get out and trudge into waist-deep water to push along their cars, looking feverishly for the best exit from a neighborhood suddenly under water.

An AFP team made a quick turn off Coney Island's Mermaid Avenue to find that the water was on the chase. The motorist put the foot on the gas and found higher land with moments to spare, the smelly sea water already seeping into the passengers' windows.

On Coney Island, virtually everyone was off the streets except police and five homeless people who usually live on subway trains, which in an unprecedented step were closed.

But within an hour, the water levels had receded, all people appeared safe and the main evidence of the flood was a sooty trail of bottles and other debris. New Yorkers, true to form, responded largely with shrugs.

"They shouldn't have evacuated everyone. Now some people might have thousands of dollars in damages and they weren't around to stop it," said Joe Perota, who was out walking his dog shortly after the storm surge.

"They need to think about the weather and not just look at satellites," he said.

Jose Pabon, who is originally from Puerto Rico, was not excited as he came downstairs from his Coney Island home and saw a still-flooded side street.

"Back in Puerto Rico, the whole city could be closed down for days," he said.

Similar scenes, some more severe, were witnessed across the New York region as it was clobbered with its first hurricane in years. In the ritzy Hamptons area of eastern Long Island, television footage showed waves pushing up against walls of big beachfront houses.

Authorities took extra precautions on Battery Park, on the southern tip of Manhattan next to the major institutions of the world's financial capital.

The water rushed onto the boardwalk but it soon went down, the shadow of the Statue of Liberty visible on the horizon.

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Hurricane Irene toll rises to 12: US officials
Washington (AFP) Aug 28, 2011 - The death toll from Irene has risen to 12 across five eastern US states, emergency officials said Sunday, as the hurricane was downgraded to a tropical storm, passing New York City.

Half of the deaths were in North Carolina, where Irene made landfall early Saturday morning with 85 mile (140 kilometer) per hour winds, before heading up the eastern seaboard and scoring a rare direct hit on New York.

The toll rose from eight overnight with new fatalities including a man hit by a falling tree in North Carolina, a woman in Maryland hit by a falling chimney, and a man killed by a storm-related electrical fire in Connecticut.

The breakdown of fatalities was: six in North Carolina, three in Virginia, and one each in Connecticut, Florida in Maryland.

The youngest fatalities were a boy killed by a falling tree in his apartment in Newport News, a city on a coastal peninsula in Virginia, and a girl who died in North Carolina.

"A 15-year-old girl was killed in a car accident on her way back from the beach after vacationing in North Carolina," explained emergency official Patty McQuillan. "The traffic light at the intersection was not working, the power was out."

North Carolina emergency management spokesman Brad Deen said one of the six victims in his state was a man who had a heart attack on Friday while nailing plywood over his windows in preparation for the hurricane.

Two people were also killed in the state in separate driving accidents. Another North Carolina fatality was a man struck by a falling tree limb while outside feeding his animals.

One storm-related death was a 55-year-old surfer who took to his board in treacherously high waves off the Florida coast on Friday.

"We had sent out an advisory recommending everyone check beach reports and use an abundance of caution before entering the water," state emergency official William Booher told AFP.

Irene is on track to continue up the east coast Sunday into the densely populated northeastern states of Connecticut, Rhode Island and Massachusetts. Officials warned that flood damage from Irene's heavy rains may be felt for days, and millions of people are without power.

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Hurricane Irene batters New York
New York (AFP) Aug 28, 2011
Hurricane Irene lashed New York Sunday, shutting down America's largest city and flooding outlying communities after killing at least nine people along the US east coast. The first hurricane to hit the Big Apple for a generation crashed into Manhattan's skyscrapers overnight, accompanied by lightning, reports of tornados and near horizontal walls of rain. As Irene approached the New Jers ... read more

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