Hurricane Irene Generates Anxiety And Disbelief On Coney Island

On Friday afternoon Mayor Michael Bloomberg updated New Yorkers from City Hall in Manhattan on Hurricane Irene's progress.

"The sun is shining, but don't be misled. There is a very dangerous storm headed in our direction," Bloomberg said.

But miles away on famed Coney Island, in the outer borough of Brooklyn, preparations were commencing with an unevenness that belied the city's diversity of attitudes. Just as the mayor said, the sun was shining. And the beach was packed -- as it likely will be, until New York City's Parks Department closes it Friday night.

A group of Russian men playing chess in the shadow of Brightwater Towers on Surf Avenue didn't sound too concerned. Regardless of what Mayor Bloomberg announced, two of them said, they weren't worried about the storm hitting the higher floors of their apartment. But even as they angled for a checkmate, their building was in the process of distributing evacuation announcements.

By 5 pm tomorrow, if everyone in the low-lying "Zone A" areas follows the mayor's evacuation orders, Coney Island will be a ghost town.

Further inland, near the Fort Hamilton Parkway stop on the N train, IS 187 school should be packed with evacuees from Coney Island, or other low-lying areas at danger, when Hurricane Irene strikes New York. By Friday afternoon, the city had already set up more than 300 cots to welcome seniors and others who might not be able to quickly find friends to stay with.

The parking lot at the neighborhood Pathmark supermarket was packed, as was the one at Home Depot across the street, as people collected water bottles and batteries for the emergency "go bags" the city had suggested compiling. Pathmark's supply of water was running low, and shoppers piled huge bags full of supplies into their trunks.

Governor Andrew Cuomo had ordered 900 National Guardsmen out to potentially affected areas, and two trucks were already fueling up at a gas station around the corner.

Right off the boardwalk at John's Deli, a temporary wooden structure that looked like it had little chance of surviving a hurricane, Joseph Granata said he was worried about what the storm would bring.

"Being temporary and having hundred-mile-an-hour winds is kind of scary," Granata said.

"The warning of a hurricane has everything on edge," he added. "We're hearing that this is something we haven't seen in quite a while and they're not kidding."

Granata said he planned to stay on Saturday until 1 or 2 p.m. -- as long as there were customers around to buy hot dogs and water bottles -- but that was before the mayor's office announced the beach would close for the weekend on Friday night.

Bob Petrano, manning the desk at the Coney Island Bait & Tackle shop Friday morning, said, "I hope I'm here come Monday."

"I'm the captain of the ship. I can't leave," Petrano said. "I own the building. Where am I gonna go? I gotta watch out for things. Besides, I think it's not going to be too bad. I have a feeling."

Petrano thought back to 1983, when Tropical Storm Dean produced only a moderate amount of rain in the city. That's not to say he wasn't worried about electricity and flooding in the basement.

The fishermen he sells to, Petrano said, would likely be out on the water "as long as they can, right up to the point when the wind says get out of here."

Will Nichols, babysitting two young boys toting fishing poles, sat out on the pier just next to the iconic parachute jump around noon. He said he did not have any plans to return to Coney Island on Saturday, adding that he was worried about what the rain might do to his leaky apartment in Manhattan's East Village.

The fish, Nichols said, were "pretty good. The kids have caught some little snappers. I caught a fluke and a sea bass. It's actually not so bad."

A last gasp before a hurricane's battering blow?

"We are having unusually good luck today," he conceded. "So maybe they're trying to steal a last meal. Maybe they know more than we do."