by Michael Gannon
Mayor Bloomberg has ordered the first mandatory evacuation in city history of all residents living in Zone A flooding locations in and along New York City waterfronts by 5 p.m. on Saturday in anticipation of a direct hit from Hurricane Irene.
The storm is expected to strike on or just east or west of the city by Saturday evening as a Category 1 storm.
All MTA transportation will begin to shut down at noon Saturday and is expected to be completely eliminated at or around 8 p.m.
“This is a mandatory evacuation,” Bloomberg said in a Friday afternoon press conference. “We want to prepare for the worst and hope for the best ... Don’t be fooled by the sunshine out there today. Don’t wait.”
The mayor and MTA Chairman Jay Walder said the agency will need approximately eight hours to shut the system down and another eight to restart it once the storm passes. Bloomberg said the MTA will have extra train and bus service in Zone A areas to help with the evacuation, but that the authority will need time to evacuate its personnel and equipment to safe areas.
“Don’t wait for that last train,” Walder said. “There simply is not enough capacity.”
Bloomberg said they already were evacuating hospitals in the Rockaways, which would face the possibility of being cut off from emergency services at the height of the storm once sustained winds began to hit 39 miles per hour.
Winds are expected to reach at least 74.
The city is preparing shelter space for 71,000 people. Affected areas include Breezy Point, Howard Beach and Broad Channel.
“We expect most people to stay with family or friends,” Bloomberg said. “Most people in Zone A areas won’t have very far to go to get out. You might not be able to move around for a while, but you’ll be in a safe place.”
The exception again, the mayor said, are the Rockaways.
“You only have a few bridges out unless you want to get out through Nassau County, and they are going to have problems of their own, maybe worse than ours,” Bloomberg said.
The mayor also asked people in Zone A areas to leave immediately if possible. He said that technically, ignoring the evacuation order after 5 p.m. on Saturday is a crime.
“No one is going to get arrested and no one is going to be fined ... But we do not have the manpower to go door to door dragging people out of their homes,” he said. “And if this isn’t followed people are probably going to die.”
Officials are expecting downed trees and branches and downed overhead power lines because of the winds. Storm surges, which are expected to hit at high tide, could flood car and subway tunnels. The city, MTA and Port Authority will make their own decisions on their bridges, ranging from reduced speeds to closing.
Walder also said restoring rail and bus service will depend on the amount of damage done by the storm.