As Irene Nears, NYC Begins Preparations

The Wall Street Journal - August 25, 2011

by Michael Howard Saul

Hurricane Irene strengthened to a Category 3 storm Wednesday, and by Thursday it could grow to a Category 4 on a projected path that puts much of the East Coast -- including the New York City area -- at risk from powerful winds and heavy rain.

In New York City, officials raised the possibility of a mass evacuation in low-lying areas as part of a worst-case scenario. The city activated its emergency operations center in downtown Brooklyn at 2 p.m. Wednesday.

"Right now we don't know what the strength of this storm will be by the time it finishes working its way up the East Coast," said Cas Holloway, deputy mayor for operations in Mayor Michael Bloomberg's administration.

If the storm remains at hurricane strength, "there is a chance" that some people in low-lying areas would be asked to leave their homes, Holloway said.

Joseph Bruno, commissioner of the city's Office of Emergency Management, said the latest intelligence from the National Weather Service indicates New York City will face a strong tropical storm, bringing winds in excess of 40 mph and rain of six to 12 inches. But a Category 1 hurricane with a storm surge of six to 12 feet is still a possibility.

"Surge is perhaps the most damaging and perhaps dangerous thing that can happen in a city that has low-lying areas," he said.

Bruno said the city is preparing for a "worst-case scenario." There are five hospitals and eight nursing homes that are in a zone that could be evacuated, he said.

The city is making preparations to open 65 evacuation centers, seven special medical needs shelters and 75 general population shelters. These facilities can hold roughly 71,000 people; there are about 272,000 people living in the area most likely to be affected.

Officials recommended residents put together a supply kit, including drinking water, a flashlight, a battery-operated radio and a whistle.

In December, Bloomberg was roundly criticized for failing to prepare properly for a blizzard that paralyzed the city. Officials said Wednesday that officials from all city agencies are actively involved in preparing for the storm.