City that never sleeps shuts down

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iol travel oct 31 manhatten AP Streets are flooded under the Manhattan Bridge in the Dumbo section of Brooklyn.

New York - It is meant to be the city that never sleeps, where you can shop 'til you drop and eat the best food.

But superstorm Sandy has forced the Empire State Building, Statue of Liberty and Metropolitan Museum to close and left tens of thousands of tourists pacing the rainy streets in a city with no public transport and most restaurants closed.

Department stores and cinemas have shut down. The lights are out on Broadway musicals and the Lincoln Centre opera.

Central Park and other New York parks have been closed because authorities fear that tree branches could fall after powerful gusts blasting at 95 miles (150 kilometres) per hour hit the city on Monday.

The storm caused widespread flooding and cut electricity to half of Manhattan.

Jean-Charles Beyaert, a dentist from France, had planned an intense week of sightseeing with 16 friends and relatives. They had hoped to attend a Harlem Gospel mass, visit Columbia University, Brooklyn and museums, as well as walk in the park. Sandy scuppered all their plans.

With guide books in their hands, the group, dressed in obligatory multicolored plastic ponchos, walked the streets aimlessly. They had lunch at a rare hamburger restaurant that was open on 23rd Street.

“We walk because everything is closed,” said Beyaert. “But we are going to super-charge the end of the week. There is a lot to catch up with.”

Not every visitor is taking the hardship with such aplomb. Hotels in the southern part of Manhattan are caught in the power blackout trap. No electricity means no elevators and a cold dark room waiting after a tough day on the streets.

Helene Leplat, also from France, said she was “disgusted.” She is staying with the brother of a friend in a small apartment and complained that the storm has left her group with nothing to do for more than two days.

Their dreams of seeing the view of Manhattan from the top of the Empire State Building and visiting the Natural History Museum have been blown away by the storm.

Margarita Seeber, a nurse from Argentina making a first visit to New York with her husband, was also on target to return home with sour memories.

“We heard nothing about this before leaving Buenos Aires,” she said.

They are staying at a hotel in the SoHo district in the heart of the blackout stricken zone.

“There is no water, no electricity. We have been given bottles of water to drink but there is nothing to eat. We had fruit for breakfast and nothing last night. A maid gave us some bread and cheese,” Seeber said.

The Argentines were heading for Central Park, unaware that it was also closed.

Culture aficionados got some solace with the news that the Metropolitan Opera was reopening on Wednesday, aptly with a performance of The Tempest by Thomas Ades. - AFP

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