NEW YORK (Reuters) - Hurricane Irene battered New York with ferocious winds and driving rain on Sunday, shutting down the U.S. financial capital and most populous city, halting mass transit and causing massive power blackouts as it churned slowly northward along the eastern seaboard.
New York City's normally bustling streets were eerily quiet after authorities ordered tens of thousands of residents to evacuate low-lying areas and shut down its subways, airports and buses.
Those who had to travel were left trying to flag down yellow taxis that patrolled largely deserted streets.
Irene, still a menacing 480-mile (780-km)-wide hurricane, was enveloping major towns and cities in the northeast, hugging the Atlantic coast and threatening dangerous floods and surging tides.
From the Carolinas to Maine, tens of millions of people were in the path of Irene, which howled ashore in North Carolina at daybreak on Saturday, dumping torrential rain, felling trees and knocking out power.
"The edge of the hurricane has finally got upon us," New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg told the more than eight million people who live in New York as he warned that tropical storm-force winds would hit the city.
Times Square, often called the crossroads of the world, was sparsely populated, mostly with visitors, as Irene rolled into the city with full force.
Broadway shows were canceled, coffee was hard to come by with Starbucks stores closed and burgers and fries were in short supply as McDonald's outlets were shut.
"We just came to see how few people are in Times Square and then we're going back," said Cheryl Gibson, who was vacationing in the city.
Bloomberg warned New Yorkers Irene was a life-threatening storm and urged them to stay indoors to avoid flying debris, flooding or the risk of being electrocuted by downed power lines. "It is dangerous out there," he said, but added later:
"New York is the greatest city in the world and we will weather this storm."
Some 370,000 city residents were ordered to leave their homes in low-lying areas, many of them in parts of the boroughs of Brooklyn, Queens and Manhattan.
Many were unwilling to go. Nicholas Vigliotti, 24, an auditor who lives in a high-rise building along the Brooklyn waterfront, said he saw no point. "Even if there was a flood, I live on the fifth floor," he said.
Storm surge fears
Flood waters forced officials in Hoboken, just across the Hudson River from Manhattan, to evacuate a storm shelter, the mayor of Hoboken, Dawn Zimmer, said on Twitter.
"Hoboken faces worst case scenario. Flooding has begun. Moving Wallace Shelter residents to state shelter in east Rutherford," the mayor's tweet said.
The Miami-based U.S. National Hurricane Center forecast a storm surge of up to 8 feet for Long Island and metropolitan New York. That could top the flood walls protecting the south end of Manhattan if it comes at high tide around 8 a. …