NEW YORK — They streamed out of low-lying New York apartments and grand Connecticut shore homes, a steady, often reluctant parade of evacuees with rolling suitcases and duffel bags; birds and cats in cages; Fruit Roll-Ups and stacks of magazines.
Hundreds of thousands of residents from East Haven, Conn., to Cape May, N.J., were ordered to leave their homes Sunday as Hurricane Sandy bore down on the Eastern Seaboard. Many complied, departing by car or ferry, school bus or subway train, though not without stress or anger, as people in Lower Manhattan jostled tensely for taxis and yelled at others for jumping ahead of them. The exodus out of Connecticut was so large that some gas stations ran out of fuel.
“Everyone is panicky — oh my God, they bring in any kind of container they can think of and fill it up with gas!” said Ann Persaud, owner of the South 7 Citgo station in New Milford.
Some evacuations were more complicated: Some 60 patients and 180 nursing home residents were moved by ambulance and bus from Long Beach Medical Center to higher ground in Nassau County and elsewhere.
“We’re all being taken out; I don’t want to go,” said Carol Mule, 74, a patient. “But it’s better than staying here being flooded to death.”
Still, with memories of last year’s less-than-ferocious Hurricane Irene still fresh, some residents simply would not move, expressing skepticism and a New York-style nonchalance, despite Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg’s warning that they were risking their safety by staying.
“Last time they made such a big hype out of it and nothing happened,” said John Miller, 27, who chose to stay in his Battery Park City apartment, having evacuated last year to New Haven, Conn., and been stuck there for a week because it was hit harder than New York.
This time, Miller was hunkering down, stockpiling water, soup, crackers and pasta and filling his bathtub with water. His friend Paola Boettner was remaining, too. “It’s more painful to evacuate than stay,” she said.
Bloomberg ordered people living in Zone A — which includes parts of all five boroughs — to evacuate.
People who stayed behind would not face arrest, but Bloomberg said they would not only put themselves at risk, but also possibly endanger the lives of emergency responders.
“We hope you don’t face those kinds of dire situations, but you could.”
Bloomberg said the decision to evacuate came after forecasters said that flooding from the storm would be graver than originally thought: a storm surge of 6 to 11 feet was forecast for New York. Areas of New Jersey and Connecticut were put under evacuation orders, too.
The reluctance to pack up and go seemed especially emphatic in luxury apartments in parts of Brooklyn, with residents dismissing the dangers and expressing excitement at the adventure of riding out the storm.
At One Brooklyn Bridge Park, a huge waterfront condominium in Brooklyn— its residents include Linda I. Gibbs, a deputy mayor, and Steven M. Cohen, a former aide to Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo — most people were staying, said the building manager, Vinnie Adovasio.
He said he had told the police, who had promised to check up on the building during the storm.
Deirdre Michalopoulos, 48, who lives in a luxury condominium on a cobblestone street in Brooklyn, a stone’s throw from the East River, said she and her family stayed put during Irene, to no ill effect, and would stay for Sandy too. “We live on the ninth floor, and I don’t think the water’s going to get up that high,” said Michalopoulos, who was heading out to buy supplies, and planned to pass the time cooped up inside, watching movies with her two children. “It’ll be great.”
If New Yorkers were reluctant to leave, they showed no reluctance to shop, hitting the stores and emptying shelves of batteries and bottled water.
Multiple Whole Foods Markets were scenes of bedlam. Some people tried to protect their properties — residents of the Red Hook neighborhood, which lies low at the mouth of New York Harbor, lined their exterior door with sandbags, as shopkeepers in other flood zones boarded their windows up.
Yet at some apartment buildings, some residents were bringing large suitcases in, not out. “I’m just too lazy,” said Merrick Zoubeiri, 25, a software engineer living at Waterside Plaza in Manhattan. He had filled his arms in the checkout line with staples: milk, bread, two cans of beans. “I feel like in a worst-case scenario,” he said; “if things do flood, I can just put on a backpack and go somewhere.”
In areas closer to the beaches, though, people were taking the threat more seriously.
On Fire Island, which was ordered evacuated, homeowners spent Saturday and Sunday shoring up their homes, putting away deck furniture and barbecues, storing bicycles and catching the last ferries back to the mainland.
The Long Island Power Authority announced at midday that it had “de-energized” the area as a precautionary measure.
Even then, not all residents were intent on leaving. Deborah Bennett, 56, who owns a gift store in Ocean Beach, said she had stayed in her home during Hurricane Irene. “I’m not really worried about the wind, I’m worried about the water,” she said. “Most of the full-time residents are staying.”
In the Far Rockaways, as the wind whipped up whitecaps on the waters nearby, Felipe Ariza, 36, a contractor, secured pieces of plywood as large as a king-size mattress to the windows of three homes. His home, his cousin’s home and his father-in-law’s home were all damaged in what had become Tropical Storm Irene, so Ariza went to Home Depot on Sunday morning and bought the plywood. He planned to evacuate for Brooklyn that night.
His cousin Edson Ariza, also 36, regretted not having evacuated for that storm. “During Irene water came into the house, the crawl space was all flooded and there were little schools of fish swimming around,” he said. “And this is supposed to be worse!”