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Hurricane Irene; Reporting Inside Seward Park Shelter

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After days of watching and waiting, we’re about to find out how much punch Hurricane Irene is going to pack in New York City.   As you probably know just by looking out your window, the rain and winds have picked up quite a bit.  By midnight, forecasters say, the winds will be strong enough to take down power lines.  The most severe conditions should be felt between 6 and 10 tomorrow morning, when winds could exceed 70 mph.

Here on the Lower East Side, the shelter at Seward Park High School is filled to capacity. NY1 reporter Lindsey Christ has been reporting from inside the high school for several hours. About an hour ago she noted that Diane Sawyer had arrived. A sampling from Christ’s twitter feed:

Lower East Side NYCHA residents say the city did an incredible job getting them here. Margarita Gonzalez, 65, “And really fancy buses too!”

Diana Correa, 40, “I came here because of my baby, to get her out and keep her safe…

“…but also, I have a disability, and I wouldn’t want to get stuck on 11th floor and have my family not want to leave because of me.”

Family in shelter says this is a hard time of the month for people on public assistance. Had no money to travel, so shelter was only option.

(7 p.m., approximately) LES shelter full, busing people elsewhere.

Group of kids in their pajamas are dancing to the radio in Seward Park evacuation shelter on Lower East Side.

(just a few minutes ago) National guard has arrived at Seward Park shelter… Moved pets to a smaller room to make space for more cots in the gym.

This evening,  “spillover” shelters were set up at I.S. 131, 100 Hester Street, and P.S. 42, 71 Hester Street. But Paul Newell, a LES district leader, reported there was a good deal of confusion at this location. People were moved back and forth between I.S. 131 and Seward Park High School. The alternate locations apparently have plenty of space and lots of water but no food.

A few hours ago, the Wall Street Journal reported:

…a steady trickle of largely Asian and Latino residents from nearby Lower East Side apartment complexes filed into the Seward Park High School. In the crowd were many elderly and disabled residents. Volunteers served hot meals and provided toothbrushes, wipes and other sanitary products to evacuees. “There are six kids in my family,” said Stephanie Guzman, a 23-year-old student whose building on Avenue D told her to evacuate Saturday morning. Volunteers provided her family with supplies. “Food, water, diapers, blankets, cots, you name it, they’re handing it out,” Ms. Guzman said. Cots had been set up in the school’s hallways, gym and basement, but not in classrooms with windows that could become dangerous in the storm. Evacuated pets filled a separate area, with the ASPCA providing puppy chow and chew toys. Jamir Elephante, a 22-year-old dancer, lives in a glass-covered building on the Lower East Side. “We know it’s a new building but it just didn’t seem like it can withstand anything,” he said as he waited out the storm inside Seward Park High School. “I’ve got two days worth of battery life,” he said, his iPod on full blast. “We’re fine.

It was a different scene elsewhere in the neighborhood. A reporter for Time Magazine witnessed the frenzied ordeal in one upscale grocery store:

(Inside) Whole Foods (on East Houston Street) customers packed the aisles. By 6pm the shelves were cleared of produce, bread and canned goods. One especially popular area was the bulk food department. As people elbowed each other to get nuts, grains, rice, trail mix and other dry goods, one customer said, “I’d rather starve than deal with these animals,” and walked away. When asked where she was headed, she said, “The liquor store.” Looking around the store filled with shoppers who pushed overflowing carts, she said, “It’s like every vegan in New York thinks the apocalypse is coming.”

Stay safe. We’ll have continuing coverage beginning first thing tomorrow morning…


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