New Yorkers aren't taking any chances with Hurricane Irene - CBS News 8 - San Diego, CA News Station - KFMB Channel 8

New Yorkers aren't taking any chances with Hurricane Irene

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LONG BEACH, N.Y. (AP/News 8) - Surfers rode 4-foot swells into shore, and beachgoers, boardwalk joggers and residents appeared in no hurry to flee to higher ground on a sunny Friday as Hurricane Irene began churning up the East Coast, taking aim at New York City and Long Island.

"Some people are completely ignoring it, and other people are a little panicked," Manhattan resident Larry Liberstein told News 8 in an interview Friday evening.

"You get the sense that everybody's wondering if you've done the right thing to prepare for this thing that you don't know is going to happen," said Chelsea resident Beth Saidel.

"Irene's going to be a big mess," said Ian Blair, a 52-year-old English teacher who was carrying his surfboard along the boardwalk in low-lying Long Beach, which was ordered to evacuate beginning Friday afternoon. "Today's the day to be out surfing. Sunday? You'll die."

It was a beautiful day to be out on the shores, enjoying the waves or taking in rays, with the National Weather Service reporting high temperatures Friday in the low- to mid-80s from Central Park to Islip, on the island.

But officials emphasized throughout the day that people don't have much time left to evacuate and prepare for what could be a dangerous mix of heavy wind, rain and flooding as the storm was poised to pummel the state.

"We are New Yorkers and we're tough ... but we're also smart," Gov. Andrew Cuomo said on Friday. "People shouldn't be deceived by the nice weather."

Officials also warned that with mass transit - from airports to subways to commuter rail - expected to be shut down by midday Saturday, it would be increasingly difficult to get around.

After touring a hurricane evacuation center in a Queens high school, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg said the sunny weather Friday was "unfortunately, perhaps, lulling people into a false sense of security."

"Tomorrow when the storm arrives, the winds and the rain will come very quickly," he said. "And with the mass transit systems shut down, your options are going to be very limited."

Bloomberg has ordered mandatory evacuations for nearly 300,000 residents in low-lying coastal areas scattered across New York City, including parts of Battery Park City, Coney Island and the Rockaways.

By mid-afternoon Friday, Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano had ordered a mandatory evacuation for approximately 300,000 people living for miles along a swath of the southern shore of Long Island.

In neighboring Suffolk County, officials there asked for mandatory evacuations of communities near the southern shore, including in parts of the Town of Brookhaven.

In the southern shore community of Bellmore, in Nassau County, Judith Conforti and her two small daughters were preparing to go further inland with family on Saturday, but her husband, Al, was refusing to leave.

"I got my friends here," he said. "All my neighbors are staying. We stick together as a team."

He has chained the patio furniture to the ground and secured his boat to the dock behind the two-story home, which the family has rented since March. Earlier this week, he had begun piling sandbags in front of the garage and purchased a canoe and a generator.

"I got my canoe on the side of the house," he said. "That's to paddle up to Merrick Road to get to my truck and my family."

Near the island's eastern tip, 86-year-old Ed Hayward took his daily 1-mile stroll in East Marion under blue skies and said his family's only concern is the potential for property damage.

"We're not going to leave. Everyone is just sitting tight," he said.

While some people in Long Beach were securing their windows with duct tape and carrying canned goods home, Sheryl Rand, 39, said she had no plans to evacuate because she had nowhere to go. Her relatives on Long Island all live in similar beach communities.

"We could go to a shelter," she said, "but you don't feel safe leaving your own home because you don't know what you're coming home to, if you are coming home to anything."

As of Friday evening, the hurricane warning was in effect from North Carolina all the way to Massachusetts - including New York City and Long Island. President Barack Obama declared an emergency for New York state, which means the state can receive federal aid to supplement state and local emergency and cleanup assistance.

The New York City area's five major airports were closing to incoming flights Saturday, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey said. And public transportation in New York City will shut down around noon Saturday - including the Long Island Rail Road, which provides service into the city from several points in the suburbs to the east and further out.

Vietnam war veteran Tommy Aybar and his wife, Donna, went to Rockaway Beach to celebrate his 65th birthday Friday after their bus to Atlantic City, N.J., never came.

"First it was the earthquake and now comes the storm," Aybar said. "The man upstairs is trying to tell us something - you all better chill out and love one another."

Maribel Araujo, the owner of a Venezuelan restaurant called Caracas Rockaway, said she had been listening to customers throughout the day minimizing the threat of Irene.

"People around here say this kind of situation happened before," she said. "They think it's a lot of Weather Channel and media worry."

The approaching storm was churning up 5- to 6-foot-high waves at the beach - which was just fine with 12-year-old Alex Cuglewski, who was still dripping water as he carried a surfboard and walked away from the beach with his father.

"I love it!" he said of the waves, which are usually only 1 to 2 feet high. "They can take you all the way to shore."

The National Weather Service said 5-foot waves were spotted Friday and were expected to swell by Saturday.

As the sun set over the center of Rockaway Beach, about 75 surfers took to the waves nearby as a band at a boardwalk bar serenaded a cheering crowd of beer drinkers with a spirited version of a blues song about Irene.

"Good night, Irene. I've seen you in my dreams!" were some of the words.

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