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Occupy Wall Street braces for Nor'easter: Hunker down or flee?

The Occupy Wall Street protesters in New York have weathered criticism and a bid to roust them from their Zuccotti Park home. Now, a 'nasty' Nor'easter is set to blow through Wednesday.

By Ron SchererStaff writer / October 18, 2011

Occupy Wall Street participants begin their day Monday in New York's Zuccotti Park. A major rainstorm is expected to hit the city on Wednesday.

Craig Ruttle/AP

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New York

The Occupy Wall Street protesters are about to get a major challenge – and it’s not from the NYPD.

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On Wednesday, Mother Nature will throw down the gauntlet as the fall’s first Nor'easter comes barreling through New York.

Zuccotti Park, where the protestors are camped out, is likely to look like a field of windblown tarps – assuming the gale-force winds don’t blow them all the way to New Jersey. All those signs decrying Wall Street and corporate America’s influence on Washington will look like a bunch of sodden cardboard. And those pizzas people from around the world are sending over to the encampment may get very soggy indeed.

The area is in for a “nasty” day, says Eric Wilhelm, senior meteorologist for AccuWeather.com in State College, Pa. He forecasts steady rain through most of the day with some periods of torrential downpours. By the time the storm moves past the Big Apple about an inch of rain will have fallen.

“In addition, it will be windy with gusts up to 30 to 35 miles per hour,” says Mr. Wilhelm.

This will be a real challenge for the encampment, which is in a concrete-floored plaza. Although there are some trees, there is no grass or dirt to absorb the torrent. And, even though the plaza is somewhat protected from the wind by skyscrapers, strong gusts are common in lower Manhattan. Almost everything the protesters brought with them looks vulnerable.

Bring it on, says some of the Occupy crowd.

“I guess it will separate the men from the boys, so to speak,” says Guy Ward as he reclines on his sleeping bag. Mr. Ward, who runs an Internet rock station, is at the encampment because he feels the group is too left wing. “We have to bring the right wing into this,” he says, promoting his views on a website.

In the meantime, he plans to protect himself just using tarps and plastic. Almost no matter what he intends to tough it out. “If I have to, I’ll just stay up 24 hours,” says the Queens resident. “I’ve been soaked and wet before.”

Staten Island resident Matthew Maloney says the weather isn’t going to bother him either – he will just use tarps and two umbrellas to shield himself from the rain. Mr. Maloney, who got out of prison last week, arrived at the site to “be a part of the strength in numbers.”

Within the encampment, he's the equivalent of a homeless person, since he has not staked out a permanent place to pitch his sleeping bag. “At night I just wander around until I find a place,” he says. “I don’t think the rain is going to stop me."

Philadelphia-area resident Claire Kaplan says she is undecided whether to stay or seek a roof over her head. As she sews a flag made out of scrap fabric, she thinks the protesters will figure out a way to stay dry. "People have been surprisingly ingenious,” says Ms. Kaplan who says her issue is corporate influence and politics.

“I’ll probably just be under a tarp keeping my fingers crossed,” says the unemployed teacher.

Rebecca Varner, concerned about the “unequal distribution of wealth and power,” is fortunate because she arrived on Tuesday with a plastic chaise lounge that will keep her off the concrete. In addition, the resident of Charleston, S.C., also arrived with some tarps, which she hopes keeps her and two friends who drove up with her dry.

“I think we’re going to be here for the next four of five days,” says Ms. Varner, who has yet to find work since graduating from college with a degree in social science last December.

Of course it has rained on the group in the past 31 days. Since the area is on a slope, the water runs downhill.

“People pretty much continued doing what they were doing,” says Karanja Gacuca, a member of the protesters' PR and media working group.

Mr. Gacuca says the only contingency plans for Wednesday are to move computers, donated clothing, and food into nearby indoor storage space.

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