Elizabeth Sharp stood her ground with her large handbag in one hand and her coat in the other, among a sea of people beneath a Long Island Rail Road train schedule board. At New York Penn Station, these LIRR riders seem to have their eyes fixated on the screen.
Like some of the commuters waiting, Sharp, a young woman who regularly commutes on an LIRR line that extends from Manhattan to the eastern tip of Suffolk County, said she lives in Long island. She was waiting for the 5:25 p.m. train to Huntington, New York with a connection to Oyster Bay. Along with everyone else, she was also waiting to find out was what track the train was arriving on.
“When the track number for Oyster Bay comes up, you’ll see a tidal wave of people,” said Sharp, her eyes glued to the screen as she waited earnestly for the track number to appear. “It’s kind of like a rat race.”
Getting on a train this Sunday afternoon has a little more urgency than most days, because in less than three hours, the New York City transit system, the nation’s largest, would have their last routes for an undetermined time.
Governor Andrew Cuomo’s announcement that The Metropolitan Transportation Authority would be shutting down all subways, commuter rails and bus services at 7p.m. occurred on the eve of Hurricane Sandy’s expected hit on New York City. Cuomo declared a state of emergency in New York, clearly taking no chances when it comes to hurricane safety.
“A situation like this, you don’t want to be overly panicked and overly prepared, but you want to be prudent,” Cuomo said. “You want to do what’s necessary.”
The city’s mass transit shutdown will affect commuters, such as Sharp. This Sunday afternoon, she said she was in Manhattan for fun, but during the week she works for a marketing firm in midtown. Sharp said she has already received notice that her company has canceled work for Monday. In the time being, she said expects to catch up reading.
“I’m in between books but, if there’s electricity I’ll do more than just read,” she said. “I’ll be on the Internet or just watching T.V.”
Before Sharp could say what books she needs to decide upon, the number 19 has already emerged next to Huntington, its appearance functioning like the starting pistol of a track race.
“I’m sorry I have to go,” Sharp said. Then, she ran to catch her train with the rest of the herd.
The MTA’s system, which usually operates 24-hours a day, serves more than 14 million in the New York Metropolitan area, and the weekday average on the LIRR is 283,415, according to the MTA website. LIRR transportation has usually remained primarily inbound Manhattan transit.
Among those thousands who commute to Manhattan is Jacqueline Northacker. The Long Island native said she commutes to her office at West 35th Street in Manhattan every weekday. She said her work is not officially canceled, but since the transit has been shut down she expects to stay home tomorrow. The shutdown has been the first since last year at Hurricane Irene during late August, but for Northacker, a recent graduate from an upstate college, the extreme safety preparations is new.
“I’ve never been in a situation like this,” she said. “I had no idea it was going to be this bad, you know how they always say it could be worse.”
When Northacker returns home, she said she would make sure her household has enough water, nonperishable food and supplies.
“I’ll most likely just hang tight,” Northacker said. “It’s better to be safe than sorry.”
In the event that Northacker will not have to go to work and her electricity will go out, she said she would be using this extended free time connect with friends and family.
“If we have no electricity, I’ll probably just go to a friends and have some drinks by a candlelight,” she said.
Riders waiting to get on the LIRR lines are not only Long Island residents. Some people are taking trains to leave Manhattan. Amrita Saraogi said she left her Hells Kitchen apartment to stay with her aunt in Long Island. She interns at two publishing companies and has only been living in Manhattan for two months.
“I’m not equipped with everything I probably should be,” Saraogi said. “The electricity might go away, I might not have enough food and I have to manage on my own.”
Saraogi’s aunt called her up and asked her to stay with family.
“So, I just thought it would be a little easier if I’m at my aunt’s house,” she said. “She’ll have it all sorted it and I’ll be stress free.”
Since Saraogi is in Manhattan for an internship, she said she is concerned about missing work. Still, she remains hopeful that the office will be closed and looks forward to relaxing and spending time with family. Like Sharp, Saraogi said she will also be using this free time to read.
The track number has appeared on the train schedule board, and Saraogi has time to do little more than quickly mention the name of the book she is reading.
“Futility published by New Directions. It’s by William Gerhardie,” she said. “It’s a pretty old book.”