As Hurricane Irene is projected to hit the East Coast this weekend, Mayor Michael Bloomberg said Thursday his top priority is to evacuate the city's most vulnerable, including hospital patients and nursing home and senior home residents, from low-lying areas in the five boroughs by Friday night.
There are five hospitals and eight nursing home facilities in the so-called "Zone A" evacuation areas — the patches of the city that are most likely to be significantly impacted by Hurricane Irene — that need to have all patients moved to higher ground by 8 p.m. Friday. The city fire department will aid with the evacuations.
Click here to watch Mayor Michael Bloomberg's Thursday evening press conference on Hurricane Irene.
Exceptions will only be provided by city and state health officials if the facility can maintain power, staffing and supplies with a flooded first floor, and if it appears that patients will be safer staying put than being transported, according to the city Department of Health.
Under the current state of emergency, city agencies will be allowed to "undertake whatever activities and measures are needed" to protect lives and property in the five boroughs.
City officials will decide by 8 a.m. Saturday whether evacuations are needed for residents of the city's low-lyings areas, such as Battery Park City in Manhattan, Coney Island in Brooklyn, the Rockaways in Queens and some parts of Staten Island.
“It is a long time away in meteorological terms,” said Bloomberg, but he said that current predictions show that Irene will be a Category 1 hurricane when it passes over eastern Queens.
Governor Andrew Cuomo declared a state of emergency Thursday afternoon, in advance of Hurricane Irene's arrival.
A state of emergency makes New York State resources available to local governments and enables New York to access key federal resources in anticipation of an emergency.
"They have a number of models on the path of the storm. Several of the models suggest the storm could go through New York, particularly the Manhattan, Lower Manhattan, Long Island area," said Cuomo.
The mayor recommends people living in flood prone areas to check in on elderly neighbors and to make a plan with friends or relatives in case evacuations are necessary.
He also urged New Yorkers to stay out of the water, citing the increased risk of heavy surf and rip tides.
New Yorkers are urged to call 311 or visit www.nyc.gov for the latest storm information.
In the midst of the warnings, federal officials spoke directly to New Yorkers.
“One of the things that people all along the coast, and especially in the Northeast, New York, Long Island, is pay attention to what’s going on,” said Richard Serino, deputy administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
Con Edison officials also released a statement saying that the utility is on "high alert," meaning it is working to be prepared for extensive gas, electric and steam outages.
Customers can report power interruptions or disruptions to service at ConEd.com or by calling 1-800-75-CONED.
Hurricane Irene's Logistical Impact
The mayor says crews with the city Departments of Sanitation, Transportation and Environmental Protection are clearing storm drains to help alleviate flooding concerns.
Chairman Jay Walder of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority predicted that the hurricane would knock MTA service out of commission and the mayor cautioned that service interruptions could last into Monday and beyond.
“Our yards may well be underwater,” said Walder. “It’s impossible to predict the damage that’ll be there.”
The MTA has been actively working with OEM, the governor and the mayor. Workers are checking drains and pumps while also securing equipment against high winds.
This weekend, the MTA will have emergency staffing levels and managers are working 12-hour shifts.
Are you doing anything to prepare for Hurricane Irene's possible arrival this weekend? Do you feel confident in OEM's preparations for the storm? Join the conversation on "The Call" at 9 p.m. with NY1's John Schiumo or email your thoughts.
If an evacuation is called, the MTA will work for a period of time before service is shut down.
For their part, officials at the Port Authority said that at the authority's five airports, including John F. Kennedy, hundreds of heavy-duty vehicles have been readied and are available, along with dozens of police vehicles, including mobile command centers and heavy-duty rescue equipment.
The airports also stock hundreds of cases of bottled water, diapers, cots, blankets and pillows to provide to stranded passengers if necessary, and under terms of the agency’s concession contracts, at least one food vendor in every passenger terminal must remain open 24 hours so that food is available at any time of day or night.
On the PATH interstate rail system, crews are prepared to combat potential flooding with sandbags and the use of pumps throughout the system, including the deployment of a 1,000-gallon-per-minute, trailer-mounted portable diesel pump that can be used inside PATH tunnels if necessary.
By late Thursday, the Department of Transportation had not altered Staten Island Ferry service.
Amtrak officials said that most trains operating south of Washington, D.C. were canceled in anticipation of the hurricane.
Permits For City Sunday Events Canceled
Bloomberg said that more than 300 activities planned for this weekend will be curtailed throughout the entire city so that emergency vehicles and buses can move through the streets. These include block parties and street fairs.
All permits for events to take place in the city on Sunday have been revoked.
Additionally, permits have been revoked for events scheduled in the low-lying “zone A” regions on Saturday.
Those who are not in Zone A may hold their events on Saturday, but Bloomberg said they should be done by 2:00 p.m. to assist with the clean-up effort.
Residents are cautioned to stay out of parks and backyards, where winds could down trees and branches.
The New York Giants and New York Jets have also moved up the starting time of their preseason game to 2 p.m. Saturday rather than 7 p.m., due to the hurricane's expected arrival.
The New York Red Bulls' game against the Los Angeles Galaxy has been pushed back from Sunday to October 4.
The New York Mets are scheduled to play a home game with the Atlanta Braves this weekend, but by late Thursday the game had not been canceled.
The New York Yankees will be in Baltimore.
Meanwhile, Columbia University, New York University and Fordham have rescheduled their move-in days from Sunday to Monday, when the weather calms down, for new students to move into their dorm rooms.
Columbia has also canceled its Sunday orientation events.
Familiar Preps For Residents Of Flood-Prone Neighborhoods
Residents of "Zone A" areas — the patches of the city that are most likely to be significantly impacted by Hurricane Irene — will know about any mandatory evacuations by 8:00 a.m. Saturday. However, the mayor strongly recommended that residents make arrangements on Friday.
“We want to take an abundance of caution here. This storm really is predicted to be very dangerous,” said Bloomberg. “Go and have a nice dinner with friends Friday night.”
To allay concerns that evacuated zones would be vulnerable to crime, Police Commissioner Ray Kelly said that there would be “a robust presence” of additional officers in these areas.
Further, police are stationing 50 small boats to station houses in low-lying areas.
Residents living in Manhattan Beach, Brooklyn say even though their homes are near the water, they are adopting a wait and see approach.
"We're a little concerned but we hope for the best you know. You can expect the worse and hope for the best," said one resident.
"Just expecting normal heavy rains and winds and not really concerned about flooding," said another.
"We do tape up the windows cause that'll keep it from breaking out, but we haven't had much trouble even in the big storms here," said a third.
In flood-prone Broad Channel in Queens, reaction to the hurricane churning toward the area was mixed.
"We'll stocking up on plenty of bottled water, gonna make sure I have food that's not perishable around, might be a power outage. And um, batting everything down," said another.
"So many times we've been told about hurricane's gonna hit us, I think maybe one or two times we were hit bad in the past 20 years. And I just think this is just gonna be another storm," said a third.
Hurricane watches and warnings have already been issued for the North Carolina coast, where effects of the storm could be felt as early as tomorrow night. Evacuations are currently underway along some of the state's coastal towns.
Once the storm hits the Carolina shore, it is expected to move up a 700-mile stretch of the Atlantic Seaboard.
Already, at least eight people have been injured in rough waters off of Florida on Thursday, according to local authorities.
On Thursday, federal officials also canceled "indefinitely" the dedication of the Martin Luther King Jr. Monument in Washington, D.C.
The storm battered parts of the Bahamas overnight with heavy winds and rains, after already leaving a million people without power in Puerto Rico.
Officials say residents should prepare a supply kit with basic essentials as a precaution. It should include bottled water, non-perishable food items, copies of important documents, flashlights, batteries and a portable radio.
For more tips on how to prepare for the storm, visit nyc.gov/oem.
Coney Island Hospital, Brooklyn (run by New York City Health and Hospitals Corporation [HHC])
NYU Hospitals Center, Manhattan (run by Greater New York Hospital Association)
Veterans Administration Medical Center, Manhattan (run by GNYHA)
Staten Island University South (run by GNYHA)
Staten Island University North (run by GNYHA)
8 Nursing homes
Menorah Home & Hospital for Aged (run by Continuing Care Leadership Coalition)
Saint Joachim and Anne Residence (run by State Department of Health)
Sea-Crest Health Care Center (run by Greater New York Health Care Facilities Association)
Shorefront Jewish Geriatric Center (run by CCLC)
Shoreview Nursing Home (run by GNYHCFA)
West Lawrence Care Center (run by GNYHCFA)
Oceanview Nursing & Rehab Center (run by GNYHCFA)
Brookhaven Rehab and Health Care (run by GNYHCFA)