August 28, 2011
Citizens React in New York and New Jersey
The Mayor of New York City today issued a stern update to his previous warnings about the coming Hurricane Irene.
In his press conference, Michael Bloomberg warned New Yorkers in the evacuation areas to get out of their homes early, using their own transportation if necessary.
That would include all Zone A areas which are low lying as well as Rockaway Beach, a Zone B area because there is no way off the Island in the event of an emergency, said Bloomberg. For the normally sanguine and perhaps sophisticated New Yorker, most believe storms will peter out before they arrive here–they’ve seen it happen many times before after dire predictions of disaster. But not this time, said Bloomberg.
“New York City doesn’t have a lot of real-life experience with hurricanes. We’ve watched then from afar as they’ve ravaged other parts of the nation, and thank God we’ve never really experienced that kind of destruction here. But that does not mean that it can’t happen here,” he said.
The category one storm which is expected to hit the city tonight at around 9 pm, is expected to be one of the worst that New York will ever experience, with 55 to 75- mile per hour winds, thrashing rain, and flooding in low lying areas.
Bloomberg also said school buses would be provided in the evacuation areas, which include for example, Battery Park City in Manhattan. Additional police and fire department personnel will be sent to those areas to provide security while homes and apartments are left empty he said.
Add to that, mass transit will be cut off at a certain time, to protect the trains. So for those that have to leave, the Mayor said, “do it now.”
Where will those people go? The city has beds for about 70,000 people in evacuation centers. However, the mayor warned, it’s probably less than that, but “we’ll make do with whatever we can,” he said.
The city is expecting water surges along lower Manhattan which could mean no electricity in Lower Manhattan as Con Ed turns off power to protect its cables from salt water, said Bloomberg.
Buildings that come under the supervision of the city, or NYCHA buildings, will also be shutting down their elevators, which could leave many people stranded in their high rise buildings on the Lower East Side.
Residents in buildings on the 10th floor or above were instructed to stay away from their windows, and all residents were advised not to go outside because of falling debris, broken glass and other objects that are expected to become loose and dangerous during the storm.
Construction has also been halted all over the city, and site managers instructed to secure all equipment and materials. Inspectors have been sent around the city to check on those sites as well, said Bloomberg.
The Mayor’s message continued to be quite firm and stern throughout, asking people not to second guess nature:
“So in conclusion: If you live in a low-lying Zone A areas or in the Rockaways, you have to leave, and you should start right now…. No matter what the track is, no matter how much it weakens, this is a life threatening storm to people here.”
Meanwhile, in New Jersey just across the George Washington Bridge, residents lost power at 9 a.m. for about 15 minutes, without explanation from the authorities. It was an eerie start, since not even a rain drop had been felt yet.
Cyclists made their early morning getaways, and rode, despite darkening clouds. People walking their dogs wondered aloud if they were going to be safe in their homes despite the height of the placement of Fort Lee above the flood zones. Should we tape our windows? Many said no, the winds would not be so great here.
One resident said she was “really scared” by the media reports, that had increased in frequency and the dire messages they were broadcasting. “I wasn’t really scared yesterday, but today I really am,” she added.
Media reports seem to be geared to the worst possible scenario, as official agencies issue dire warnings protect themselves from future backlash by residents if they haven’t been told what to expect.
All of the local supermarkets in Fort Lee, Tenafly, and Edgewater, NJ with the exception of Whole Foods, had been totally cleared of bottled water, seltzer, and other water type supplies like sparkling water, small and large by early Friday as residents made a mad dash to stockpile the precious commodity.
On Facebook, friends exchanged preparation messages. Said one Long Island family, their plan was to leave their home and come into the city for safety.
Below, we have reproduced Bloomberg’s entire message from his press conference.
“You can listen to the noise of the elevated train. That’s not going to be here this afternoon, and I think that’s the message that people have to start understanding, that starting at noon today – which is in only two and a half hours – mass transit is not going to be available if you have to leave. You have to start right now.
“Now, we’ve heard that lots of people are leaving, and that’s great, and we’re joined here by some people who can help us get the message out. We have Council Member Domenic Recchia, Council Member Mike Nelson, State Assembly Member Alec Brook-Krasny, Congressman Jerry Nadler, and Borough President Marty Markowitz of course is here. We can’t come to Coney Island without Marty being here. And I did want to thank Inspector Peter DeBlasio, the commanding officer of the 60th Precinct for hosting us today.
“The hurricane has hit ground in North Carolina. New York City is under hurricane warning. We expect a strong Category 1 storm to hit us tonight with winds between 55 and 75 miles an hour. Now people get confused and say, ‘Oh, that’s down from 115.’ The great danger to us here is from the storm surge, and there’s no evidence that the forecast for that is changing. It is going to be a very serious thing as far as we can tell now.
“If the storm were to head directly east and get away from us, nothing could make us happier. But you can’t prepare for the best case, you have to prepare for the worst case. And that’s why yesterday we issued a mandatory evacuation order for the more than 370,000 New Yorkers residing in the low-lying areas called Zone A areas, and in the rest of the Rockaways, which is classified as Zone B. The difference with Zone B and Zone A, Zone B is higher, but the Rockaways are a special case because if the bridges get closed, there’s no way off the island, and it would be very difficult for us to provide emergency services.
“The steady stream of New Yorkers leaving these areas have been coming in to some of the 91 evacuation and emergency shelter facilities we’ve set up throughout the city. We have a capacity for something like 70,000 people. Having said that, capacity is a little bit misleading. We do not have beds for 70,000 people, but we’ll make do with whatever we can.
“To ensure security and safety, we’ve increased the police protection throughout the evacuation zone. We also have ten teams of firefighters – two in each borough – using school buses to help evacuate homebound elderly and nursing home patients. And we still have a few hospitals and nursing homes and adult care facilities in Zone A in the Rockaways to go. But some 7,000 patients and residents have already been evacuated. And I just wanted to point out, the management of those facilities – the senior homes, the nursing homes and the hospitals – have been phenomenally cooperative. It has gone so smoothly, they all deserve a lot of credit. Hopefully this will have been for not, but we cannot take risks, and particularly with the most vulnerable we wanted to do those first, and that’s basically been accomplished.
“We do not, incidentally, recommend that anyone waits for a bus to evacuate. The best thing to do is to use your own or public transportation to get yourself to a shelter, and that means you’ve got to do that right now. Two and a half hours left for mass transit. City employees, if you volunteered to help serve in the shelters today, we need you to report to your sites now. It is going to be very difficult to get to or from these sites, and when people show up, you really are going to make a difference. So those of you City employees who volunteered, thank you so much for doing so, but we just do need you to start making that trip. Bring some stuff with you if you have to stay for a while, but you really are going to make a difference for those in this city who aren’t as fortunate as the rest of us.
“The NYPD is also sending vehicles with sound equipment throughout the area to broadcast the message that this is a dangerous hurricane that is approaching and residents must evacuate to safety. They will be doing that all afternoon into the evening, but keep in mind, if you want to evacuate later on, you’re going to be on your own. You’ll have to walk, or you’re going to have to find some way to use a car or a taxi.
“For those residents of the Rockaways and the low-lying areas of Zone A who have not yet left, I want you to take a look at the pictures which the press just took of these small boats. You’ve probably seen boats like this before. There’s lots of news footage after Hurricane Katrina that was certainly full of images of these boats, and the emergency responders that rowed through the flooded streets, rescuing stranded residents.
“We hope we won’t have to need these boats here, but let me point out it’s not the same as Katrina where you had a lot of water that stayed around for a long time. Here, what we’re expecting is a tidal surge that comes in with a storm surge on top of it. It would flood an awful lot, it would do a lot of damage to mechanical equipment, and to protect us an awful lot of buildings – include of all of NYCHA facilities – are turning off their elevators because they don’t want people stuck in them if later with the water or the wind. Also it’s possible also that Con Ed has to turn off some of its power in Lower Manhattan, because if salt water gets on these cables when they are being used, the damage is substantial. There’s a lot less damage to cables if salt water gets on them when they don’t carry any current. Con Ed will make that call later on, but it’s conceivable that in downtown Manhattan, for example, there will be no electricity, as well as a lot of water in the streets.
“Let’s stop thinking this is something that we can play with. Staying behind is dangerous, staying behind is foolish, and it’s against the law. And we urge everybody in the evacuation zone not to wait until there are gale force winds and driving rain to leave, not to wait until the public transportation starts slowing down today. It’s going to be too late. The time to leave is right now.
“We just won’t have the resources to get everyone in the evacuation zones out after the storm hits when we’ll need our first responders to respond to life threatening emergencies, so those who need to evacuate should do it now. This, incidentally, means now to business owners as well. If you have a business in the evacuation zone, you should close up shop and evacuate along with everyone else. Please take necessary precautions, including turning off propane tanks, gas, and electrical utilities at the main switches.
“New York City doesn’t have a lot of real-life experience with hurricanes. We’ve watched then from afar as they’ve ravaged other parts of the nation, and thank God we’ve never really experienced that kind of destruction here. But that does not mean that it can’t happen. It can, and we must be prepared. And that’s exactly why we developed our Coastal Storm Plan back in 2006 to prevent the kind of problems that we saw during Katrina. So please heed these warnings and get yourself to safety before the bad weather hits. As I mentioned earlier, the MTA will be shutting down the public transit system at noon. What that means is the last train leaves the station, but you can’t count on being on the last train. It may be overloaded, or maybe it’s already past you. You should assume after noon that there is no mass transit.
“Staten Island Ferry service will be suspended as of 10:00 PM tonight or earlier if the winds come earlier. City bridges may close if high winds make driving across them dangerous. And the TBTA and Port Authority bridges, which tend to be the bigger, higher bridges, may close even earlier.
“The beaches are closed for the weekend, as will all cultural institutions. And once the storm hits, it is just not safe to be in the parks either. The risk of falling tree limbs is serious, and people can get killed there. And for the surfers, we all know that it’s a lot of fun to catch a big wave – this storm is dangerous and we just don’t have the resources. We don’t want to put our first responders’ lives in jeopardy to try to save you.
“During the storm, please stay off streets and sidewalks to prevent injury, and stay away from the windows if you live on the tenth floor of a high rise or above that. The risk of window damage is greater, so it’d be smart to stay away from the windows or go to a lower floor.
“If the low-lying areas of our city begin to flood, I mentioned the Con Ed may have to shut down their power lines. NYCHA buildings will be shutting down their elevators, as will other buildings. And if you’re using generated power, please do not have a generator inside your house or your apartment. Carbon monoxide fumes kill.
“In terms of our city buildings: All construction has been stopped. Our inspectors are working to make sure that construction sites are locked down.
“Homeowners and residents: If you haven’t done so already, please bring outdoor furniture inside – plywood, trashcans, any loose items that can blow around.
“So in conclusion: If you live in a low-lying Zone A areas or in the Rockaways, you have to leave, and you should start right now. Do not delay. Do not wait for the weather to be bad. It’s starting to rain here in Coney Island right now. This is just the beginning. You say it’s a few drops – this is going to be a very serious storm. No matter what the track is, no matter how much it weakens, this is a life threatening storm to people here.”