New York in lockdown as storm sedates city that never sleeps
AT 8.30am on any normal Monday, Grand Central Station, the world's largest train terminus, would have thousands of commuters on its 44 platforms.
Central Park would be teeming with joggers and dog-walkers circling the Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis reservoir.
And the Empire State Building would already have a steady line of tourists waiting to climb the iconic Art Deco masterpiece and absorb its magnificent views of New York's unforgettable skyline.
Yesterday at 8.30am all were closed. New York, New York -- the city they say never sleeps -- had been sedated.
Ground to a halt and turned into a near ghost-town, the Big Apple's bright lights were dimmed by the impending arrival of Hurricane Sandy.
The so-called "Frankenstorm" was last night expected to lash the city with winds of up to 90mph and bring surges of up to 11ft, threatening to cause the worst flooding in Lower Manhattan and its outer boroughs in years.
And no one could accuse New York City of not taking it seriously.
Even before the wind and rain started on Monday morning, America's most populous city -- home to more than eight million people -- had gone into lockdown.
At 7pm on Sunday, the subway system -- the only sensible way to traverse gridlocked Manhattan -- was closed.
Road tunnels linking Manhattan to New Jersey and Brooklyn -- which can often take an hour or more to negotiate -- were at first empty and then, at 2pm, closed. The city's three major airports all saw hundreds of flights cancelled.
New York is normally a gastronomic and shopping paradise. But yesterday, most of its 20,000 restaurants and thousands more retail stores were closed.
Macy's on Herald Square boasts it is the "The world's largest store". But yesterday it too was shut, a sign informing customers that it would only reopen when the subway did -- something some predicted would not be until tomorrow.
Similar signs were on the windows of all Starbucks and McDonald's in the city. Iconic streets such as Fifth Avenue, Park Avenue and Broadway -- usually crammed to the point of frustration -- were eerily quiet, almost devoid of traffic.
Even emptier was Broadway, where all shows were cancelled yesterday.
And while Times Square -- "the crossroads of the world" -- was by no means deserted, it was a world away from the bustling tourist centre it normally is.
The only vehicles on the roads were the ubiquitous yellow cabs, out in force in the hope of taking advantage of the subway closure.
The Empire State Building is usually not complete without a line of tourists standing outside. Yesterday, the only continuous presence was a security guard who had to inform the few hardy souls who inquired about climbing to the top that the observation deck was, understandably, closed.
A few blocks north, Central Park -- the centrepiece of Manhattan -- was also closed. Inside, city staff were trimming tree branches in a bid to stop them becoming flying debris.
Added to the list of closures was the New York Stock Exchange on Wall Street, which closed yesterday and is also due to be closed today.
The 'New York Post' captured the feeling of desolation in the city. The tabloid's front page carried a picture of the Statue of Liberty holding an umbrella alongside the headline: "Closed: Monster storm Sandy brings city to a halt".
But for some New Yorkers at least, it was business as usual. Some spoke of hosting hurricane parties at home, while some bars insisted they would stay open throughout the storm.
In Central Park, joggers continued with their morning run, albeit around the outside of the park rather than through the trees.
One dog-walker attracted serious attention when she walked by with 11 dogs on a leash. The woman, who did not give her name, said: "Hurricane or no hurricane, they still have to go for their walk. I have been doing this for 20 years. I walked dogs at this park through Hurricane Irene and Hurricane Floyd."
For others, the hurricane was quite literally the perfect storm.
At Schatzie's butcher's shop on the upper west side of the city, business was brisk, with customers streaming in to buy last-minute supplies, much to the delight of owner Tony Schatzie (69).
"Business is good, very good," he laughed, adding that he would welcome future hurricanes.
"I'll put a notice in the window saying 'Stock up your refrigerators, you dummies'. Really, people are stupid. This is New York City. We're not going to run out of anything. Nobody's going to starve." (© Daily Telegraph, London)