New York officials preparing for Hurricane Irene this weekend will decide tomorrow whether to call for the evacuation of low-lying areas in downtown Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens and Staten Island, Mayor Michael Bloomberg said.
The decision would be based on the strength, path and speed of the storm, Bloomberg told reporters today at a news conference in a flood-prone section of Queens. The city would offer “an enormous shelter system” for those without a place to stay on higher ground, he said.
“We don’t have enough information yet to make that call,” Bloomberg said. “The timing is a bit up in the air, as it is with all these things. Sometime on Friday, late in the day. How many depends on how severe we think the storm is going to be.”
Officials must decide whether to suggest or order people to seek higher ground, Bloomberg said. The mayor has the power to issue an executive order forcing evacuation, which Bloomberg said he would use only in the “worst circumstances.”
The heightening concern over the approaching storm and the quickening pace of preparations became evident at 11 a.m. today when Bloomberg summoned the city’s elected officials as well as its state legislative delegation to City Hall for a briefing with police and emergency-management officials.
Gloria in 1985
Irene, the strongest Atlantic storm to threaten the U.S. since 2005, battered the Bahamas today with 113 mph winds on a course that’s expected to take it near North Carolina this weekend and New England next week. Only five hurricanes on record dating to 1851 have tracked within 75 miles of New York City, the most recent being Gloria in 1985, according to the National Weather Service.
City officials are planning for a storm on Aug. 28 with winds of at least 60 miles per hour (97 kilometers per hour) accompanied by heavy rain, the mayor said. They expect the brunt of the storm to cross mid-Long Island, on the border of Nassau and Suffolk counties, to the east of the city, he said.
He advised residents to prepare “go-bags” containing water, non-perishable food, medications, important papers and extra house and car keys in the event officials declare the storm dangerous enough to evacuate. The areas affected include lower Manhattan, southeast Queens, Brooklyn’s beach communities including Coney Island and coastal areas of Staten Island, Bloomberg said.
The Police Department has 50 small boats to use in the event of floods. Sanitation crews are cleaning leaves and refuse from storm sewers and moving equipment to higher ground. Hospitals have checked their emergency power generators, stocks of medicine and other supplies.
The mayor is founder and majority owner of Bloomberg News parent Bloomberg LP.