Evacuees from Hurricane Irene sought refuge any place they could: with friends and family, in churches and schools, at stadiums and universities _ and even some five-star hotels.
As the first rain and winds of Irene hit coastal New Jersey, Gov. Chris Christie introduced himself simply as Chris at a gym at Rutgers University, where about 500 green cots had been set up to house those transferred earlier Saturday from an arena in Trenton used as a staging space.
"Hang in there. You won't be here long," Christie told Tasha Jenkins, as she sat on a cot, her newborn in a car carrier next to her. "We're going to keep you safe until it passes."
The American Red Cross had well over 150 shelters open from North Carolina to Connecticut. In New Jersey and New York, more than 10,000 people were in shelters Saturday evening.
For those willing to fork over big bucks for a dry dwelling, five-star hotels provided a luxurious alternative to improvised shelters. There was no vacancy for the next several days at The Ritz-Carlton New York, along Central Park, where a double room with interior view was going for $695 per night.
Irene foiled Melanie Walters' birthday trip to Toronto with her husband. The couple from Austin, Texas, had been traveling through New York, but the second leg of the trip was canceled Sunday. So the couple holed up at the Ritz-Carlton, where they whiled away the hours at the bar as the city shut down around them.
"It's a pretty great place to be stranded," she said, smiling . "Even though I have no present today."
Joseph Cunningham spent the day playing cards and socializing with others in a shelter fashioned out of an elementary school in Galloway Township, just outside evacuated Atlantic City.
The 74-year-old, confined to a wheelchair because of congestive heart failure, said he couldn't afford a motel. But Cunningham said he prefers a shelter, where he knew medical care would be available.
"The services they provide here best fit my needs, and I feel very lucky to be here," Cunningham said.
The shelter at the school was near capacity with about 200 people, and new arrivals were sent by bus or car to other shelters as they opened. In the cafeteria, young people with families and older people with medical needs mingled, eating cold cuts and drinking coffee.
While an occasional scuffle or raised voice interrupted the relative calm, things were running as well as could be expected, shelter residents said. Sheriff's deputies and Salvation Army workers helped people move from place to place, while a nurse attended to those with medical issues.
Late Saturday, the Red Cross said they were opening shelters as quickly as possible, but supplies and space were limited and those whose homes were safe should stay put.
In the Park Slope section of Brooklyn in New York, people trickled in at an evacuation center set up at a large high school. They arrived in occasional buses and private cars, carrying garbage bags filled with clothing and in some cases pushing carts loaded up with personal belongings and luggage.
All the residents were evacuated from a public housing project in Red Hook, a low-lying area in Brooklyn where the shipping lanes from the Erie Canal used to terminate. Residents said that to get them to leave, management told them they would shut down the water and power at 5 p.m.
"Our building is old. So I took out the air conditioners, closed the windows and locked up. But I think we'll be fine," said Evette Roblebo, a 42-year-old who drove up to the center in a car filled with friends. She sent her children to stay with relatives, wary of having them stay in a shelter.
Only about 30 evacuees were at a shelter at Brentwood High School in Brentwood, N.Y., by early Saturday afternoon. The Red Cross was prepared to welcome people from the south shore and Fire Island and said they would set up bleachers once all the beds were taken.
Alexander Ho, 31, was calmly eating a sandwich at one of several long tables in the cafeteria. He voluntarily left his first-floor apartment in an East Islip home _ which sits several blocks from the water, just beyond the mandatory evacuation area _ because he was worried about the general "mayhem" that might ensue.
"Objects outside can be projected as missiles," Ho said. "I figured my apartment didn't seem as safe as I thought, as every room has a window."
The hotel just off Interstate 81 in Lebanon, Pa., was sprinkled with New Jersey license plates Saturday evening and approaching capacity. A hotel employee assured one woman there was plenty of water.
"We're not too keen on fighting the storm," said Sabu Manickam, as he held his 2-year-old son in the lobby while his wife helped herself to coffee.
The young family fled Saturday afternoon from Trenton, N.J., to get outside Irene's path.
"Hopefully we'll be back tomorrow," he said.
Lederman reported from Trenton, N.J. Contributing to this report were Associated Press writers David Caruso in Brooklyn, N.Y., Meghan Barr in Brentwood, N.Y., Beth DeFalco in New Brunswick, N.J., Verena Dobnik in New York City and Randy Pennell in Lebanon, Pa.