Sunday, August 28, 2011

Hurricane Irene: Michael Bloomberg makes last-ditch evacuation plea


Hurricane Irene: Manhattan skyline
The Manhattan skyline as hurricane Irene approached New York. Michael Bloomberg has urged people living in the Zone A evacuation area to evacuate. Photograph: KeystoneUSA-Zuma/Rex Features

The mayor of New York, Michael Bloomberg, led a last-ditch, final push on Saturday evening to persuade residents of low-lying and coastal areas to evacuate for their own safety before the arrival of hurricane Irene.

With only a few hours to go until darkness fell and hurricane-strength winds begin to gust over the city, Bloomberg said only 1,400 people had so far checked into evacuation centres, which have been set up to accommodate 70,000.

There were no estimates of how many of the 370,000 people living in the Zone A evacuation area had heeded the mandatory orders, Bloomberg said.

"Time is running out. It's going to get dark in a little while … If you haven't left you should leave now. Not later this evening, not this afternoon, immediately," he urged.

By 9pm on Saturday, as Irene's outer bands began to deliver heavy rain on the city and a tornado watch was issued, the number of people in evacuation centres had risen only to 5,500.

Hurricane conditions are expected to hit New York in the early hours of Sunday, with the eye of the storm brushing over the city at about 10am EDT.

Police patrolled Zone A with loud hailers on Saturday evening, and volunteers knocked on doors in public housing areas with offers of transport, but many residents were refusing to leave.

Outside an evacuation centre in south Brooklyn, near her home in the waterside neighbourhood of Red Hook, Niyelle Manley said that a third of her neighbours were preparing to ride out the storm at home.

"We warned a lot of them but I guess they took it as a joke" she said. Manley, who arrived at the centre with her wheelchair-bound mother, Patricia and her two-month-old daughter, Kallyah, lives in the projects on the first floor of a block near the pier. She talked her mother into leaving, she said, but had no luck persuading seven or eight families out of 20 in her block who remained.

Bloomberg warned those in Zone A who had not left that lifts in public buildings would be shut down and they could find themselves without power. New Yorkers in the prime evacuation zone, including Battery Park City, Coney Island, Manhattan Beach, Far Rockaway, Midland Beach and South Beach in Staten Island, had to be out by 5pm on Saturday.

Political leaders and officials up and down the east coast were echoing Bloomberg's evacuation call as Irene lumbered towards them, bringing wind speeds of 85mph and the high risk of storm surges and inland floods

In neighbouring New Jersey, the governor, Chris Christie, said about 5,300 people had moved into the emergency shelters, with about 1 million in total leaving the shore area over the last 24 hours.

But he said there had been "hiccups", with particular resistance from elderly people in the Atlantic City area. "There are a few remaining residents who have refused to evacuate," he said.

He added: "Certainly we're not going to put you under arrest to make you leave but we do have your safety first and foremost in out minds."

Corey Booker, mayor of Newark, New Jersey, told CNN he had been going door to door warning residents to flee the storm.

"I benefited a lot from the surprise factor as the mayor showing up," he said. "I think they got the point, and hopefully they'll behave appropriately."

The hurricane caused 7ft waves and forecasters warned of storm-surge damage on the coasts of Virginia and Delaware, along the Jersey shore and in New York harbour and Long Island sound.

New York's entire transportation network began closing at noon, for the first time in its history, however there were still almost-normal levels of taxis in the city. Bloomberg said people could walk to one of 78 evacuation centres, and if people were desperate, they could even flag down a police car.

He added that mass transit was "unlikely" to be back in operation on Monday.

Con Ed, the city's largest utility, said it may be forced to cut off power to 6500 customers in lower Manhattan and Wall Street if significant amounts of salt water got into the system, according to Associated Press.

About 1 million people are now without power and the storm has yet to hit a major population centre.

By Saturday afternoon, 500,000 residents had lost power in North Carolina, and utility companies expected more outages as the hurricane moved north. Power outages were also reported in Virginia, Maryland, Delaware and Washington DC. South-east Virginia is also undergoing blackouts. Dominion Resources, the power company, said about a third of its 212,000 customers there were without power by about 4pm. But the heavy rain also took down power lines around the city of Richmond, where about 50,000 were without power, as well as in the Washington suburbs.

The latest advisory from the National Hurricane Centre, in the early evening, put the hurricane 315 miles south southwest of New York City, and said the eye of the storm would move over the mid-Atlantic coast on Saturday night and south New England on Sunday, with maximum winds of up to 80 mph. The hurricane warning has been discontinued south of Surf City, North Carolina.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2011/aug/28/hurricane-irene-michael-bloomberg-evacuation
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