More than 500 people had poured into the shelter set up at John Adams High School in Ozone Park as of late Saturday afternoon, waiting anxiously on rows of cots as they began to ride out a hurricane that has wiped out power to about 25,000 people in Queens and caused extensive flooding throughout the borough and city.
As Hurricane Irene roared toward New York City, Mayor Bloomberg ordered a mandatory evacuation - the first one in the city's history - of the Rockaways and other low-lying neighborhoods in Manhattan and Brooklyn.
"Our home is in the worst area, right by the shore in Far Rockaway, so we're worried," Naide Pena said as she rolled a suitcase on the sidewalk leading to John Adams. "We put everything in the middle of our rooms and put plastic over everything, so hopefully that helps. We are just praying it does nothing horrible."
Many Rockaway residents left their homes as the sheets of rain began for the first time on Saturday and arrived in Ozone Park with toddlers clutching blankets and teens nodding to headphones in tow as they lugged suitcases filled with clothes, books and games.
"We decided today to leave as time went by because we didn't want the children to get stuck," said Far Rockaway resident Lorena Garcia, who came with her children ages 9, 5 and 4.
Ms. Hughes, a Far Rockaway resident who did not want to give her first name, said she and her family brought stacks of books and magazines to entertain them as they holed up in John Adams, which was, according to some published reports, one of the most crowded shelters in the city.
"I had a lot of friends who said they were going to stay in Far Rockaway, but they ended up coming here too," Hughes said.
Hundreds of cots had been set up in John Adams, and George Russo, who owns Villa Russo Catering in Richmond Hill, provided food for those staying in the shelter.
"It's very orderly inside," Hughes said. "I think the city has done a good job."
By the time the hurricane hit New York City, it had killed at least eight people and left an estimated two million without power along the eastern seaboard, according to the Associated Press. Con Edison has reported that, as of 7 a.m., about 72,000 of its customers were without power in the city and West Chester, including 25,000 people in Queens. Widespread flooding has been reported, especially in the Rockaways, Hamilton Beach and Howard Beach.
State Sen. Joe Addabbo Jr. (D-Howard Beach) and Councilman Eric Ulrich (R-Ozone Park) have asked residents to call them should they need help, especially because 311 has been overloaded with calls.
Residents can call Addabbo's 24-hour hotline at (718) 738-1111 and Ulrich said he and his staff can be reached at (718) 738-1083.