NYC subway, Broadway shut for Irene

New York: The nation`s largest subway system and arriving flights at the five main New York City-area airports were to be halted at noon Saturday as Hurricane Irene spun its way up the Eastern Seaboard, forcing more than 300,000 evacuations and dimming lights at Citi Field and on Broadway.

All Broadway musicals and plays were canceled for Saturday and Sunday, as well as `Zarkana` by Cirque du Soleil at Radio City Music Hall and Lincoln Center Theater`s "War Horse." It`s the first time Broadway has shut down for an emergency since the blackout in 2003.

Bridges and tunnels also could be closed as the storm approaches, possibly clogging traffic in an already congested city. Taxis in New York City were to switch from metered fares to zone fares, meaning riders would be charged by which part of the city they were being driven to, rather than how far they were being taken.

But by Saturday morning, many New Yorkers appeared to have heeded the warnings about the approaching storm. Bridges and streets were nearly empty, with few people walking or driving. With the shutdown deadline looming, most cars on a train on the No. 1 subway line that runs the length of Manhattan`s West Side were empty already in the early morning.

On Wall Street, sandbags were placed around subway grates nearest the East River, which is expected to surge as the hurricane nears New York.

The five main New York City-area airports were scheduled to close at noon Saturday for arriving domestic and international flights. Three of them, Kennedy, LaGuardia and Newark Liberty, are among the nation`s busiest.

At Kennedy airport Friday night, travelers rushed to make some of the last flights leaving before the hurricane was expected to hit. Some terminal entrances were already closed ahead of Saturday`s shutdown. Passengers waiting in line for security checks were led between terminals on ramps closed to vehicles as security agents tried to get the passengers through on time.

Officials hoped most residents would stay with family and friends, and for the rest the city opened nearly 100 shelters with a capacity of 71,000 people.

Irene was expected to make landfall in North Carolina on Saturday, then roll up the Interstate 95 corridor reaching New York on Sunday. A hurricane warning was issued for the city Friday afternoon, the first time that`s happened since Gloria in 1985.

If the storm stays on its current path, skyscraper windows could shatter, tree limbs would fall and debris would be tossed around. Streets in the southern tip of the city could be under a few feet of water, and police readied rescue boats but said they wouldn`t go out if conditions were poor.

Several New York landmarks were under the evacuation order, including the Battery Park City area, where tourists catch ferries to the Statue of Liberty. Construction was stopping throughout the city, and workers at the World Trade Center site were dismantling a crane and securing equipment. Bloomberg said there would be no effect on the Sept. 11 memorial opening the day after the 10th anniversary of the terrorist attacks.

But sporting events, concerts and even Broadway were going dark.

Bloomberg weathered criticism after a Dec. 26 storm dumped nearly two feet of snow that seemed to catch officials by surprise. Subway trains, buses and ambulances got stuck in the snow, some for hours, and streets were impassable for days. Bloomberg ultimately called it an "inadequate and unacceptable" response.

This time officials weren`t taking any chances. Transit officials said they can`t run once sustained winds reach 39 mph, and they need eight hours to move trains and equipment to safety.

Bureau Report

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