Belfast Telegraph

Northern Ireland tourists tell of ghost town gripped by uncertainty

By Claire McNeilly

Northern Ireland exiles are holding tight as Hurricane Sandy ravages the east coast of America.

Hundreds of thousands of residents were evacuated from New York City and New Jersey amid fears over the super-storm that has already killed at least 69 people.

The Belfast Telegraph on Monday night spoke to several Ulster holidaymakers and expats who found themselves caught up in the drama.

Eilish (56) and Allan (46) Rutherford, from Belfast, arrived in New York with their two sons Stuart (18) and 15-year-old Thomas on Thursday.

“We are here for Stuart's 18th birthday but so far we haven't been able to do much. There isn't anywhere open so we are settling into the Triple Crown Irish bar in Manhattan for a bite to eat and a few drinks — there's nothing else for it.

“We’re based in a hotel on Seventh Avenue,” said Eilish a physiotherapist and former Irish hockey international.

She added: “We were supposed to fly home on Sunday, but when we got to the airport we were told there were no flights.

“People are panicking because the subway has been completely shut down and when you listen to the television reports it makes you think it’s really unsafe to go out at all.” Donal Griffin (24), from Omagh, and his girlfriend Kim (26) also found solace in the Irish bar.

“We had a walk around in the wind and rain and discovered that this Irish pub seems to be the only place open in Manhattan — typical,” Donal laughed.

“We asked the owner if he was going to board up the windows in preparation of the storm but he just said ‘Nah, it'll be grand'.

“The staff at our hostel in the middle of Manhattan are preparing the building for flooding and sorting out the electrics.

“Power outages are a major worry.

“We don't know if we are going to be evacuated or not,” the marine biologist said.

“The wind is picking up speed and the rain is just getting heavier.

“There is nobody about the streets, it's so surreal.

“This little pub we have found feels like a taste of home, as I know the barman who works here,” he said.

“We’re moving to Australia on Thursday and our plan had been to fly to Washington on Sunday and then on to Chicago, but that’s not going to happen now.”

Lecturer Zoe Adjey, who is in her 40s, has been staying in a hotel in Manhattan's upper west side with 15 hospitality students aged between 16 and 19 years old since Friday.

“We’re been told to bunker down and stay indoors. I have never seen wind and rain like this — and I am from Portrush.

“I went outside to take a picture and had to hold on to a lamp-post as the wind was blowing me off my feet.

“It's terrifying and we are all very nervous. We are in a second-storey room and everyone in the hotel is tentatively looking out their windows at a tree outside as it gets closer and closer to being uprooted,” said Zoe, who now lives in London.

“Very few restaurants and diners are open and Broadway is almost completely empty, which is eerie. The city that never sleeps is actually asleep. It is like a ghost town.”

East Belfast native Michael McDowell (60), an international affairs consultant, has lived in Washington DC for 24 years.

He said there was a surprising degree of panic in the city as the storm gathers momentum.

“It’s raining heavily and the wind is really starting to pick up, it's getting stronger and stronger. People are apprehensive,” he said.

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