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Sandy One Year Later: City Takes Steps To Improve Evacuation, Shelter Process During Storms

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Among the many changes that have taken place in the year since Hurricane Sandy, hundreds of thousands more New Yorkers now live in evacuation zones. The re-drawn maps are just one step the city says it's taken to improve the process of evacuating and sheltering residents the next time disaster strikes. NY1's Bobby Cuza filed the following report.

There were dire warnings from city officials and police blaring warnings over loudspeakers. Yet the night before the storm, Metropolitan Transportation Authority buses sent to transport evacuees left the Rockaways empty. It was the same with school buses at city housing authority buildings.

A post-Hurricane Sandy survey found that 63 percent ignored the mandatory evacuation. The most often cited reason: they didn't think the storm was strong enough to pose a danger.

"The communication of the message and the knowledge was not the issue," said Cas Holloway, deputy mayor for operations. "People - some people - made a decision that they weren't going to go, and we want to get that number down to absolutely as low as possible."

City officials say they've already stepped up communication, and they released new evacuation maps, with the old Zones A, B and C replaced by Zones 1 through 6, allowing for more targeted evacuations. Altogether, about 3 million New Yorkers, or more than one-third of the population, now live in an evacuation zone.

While most evacuees will stay with friends or family, the city's emergency shelter system, consisting of more than 500 shelters, can hold some 600,000 people. During Hurricane Sandy, only the first tier of shelters was activated, like Seward Park High School on the Lower East Side, and they served only about 7,000 evacuees in total.

The shelters weren't designed to stay open more than three days. Thanks largely to power outages, many required shelter longer.

Indeed, many didn't evacuate until after the storm, and conditions soon deteriorated. Cellphone footage showed a man urinating into a water fountain at one shelter. Food consisted largely of Meals Ready to Eat, or MREs.

"They're fine in an emergency, but after a few of them, you just, you never want to see another one in your life," said Linda Gibbs, deputy mayor for health and human services.

Better meal options and prioritizing shelters that can stay open longer are just two things the city says it's prepared to do better the next time. ClientIP:, UserAgent: CCBot/2.0 ( Profile: TWCSAMLSP