FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
August 25, 2011
MAYOR BLOOMBERG UPDATES NEW YORKERS ON CITY PREPARATIONS FOR HURRICANE IRENE AND STEPS NEW YORKERS SHOULD TAKE TO PREPARE
The following are Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg's remarks as delivered this evening at City Hall:
“Good afternoon. I wanted to bring New Yorkers up to date on the City’s ongoing preparations concerning Hurricane Irene.
“As I’m sure you all know, Irene remains on course to reach the coast of North Carolina early on Saturday. That will make it the first hurricane to strike the East Coast in seven years, and the first to hit anywhere in the United States since Hurricane Ike came ashore in Texas in 2008.
“The National Weather Service is now predicting that New Yorkers will begin to feel the effects of Irene in the early hours of Sunday morning, and based on the latest forecast it will be a Category 1 storm. Let me remind you that this kind of forecast is very imprecise, and we’re talking about something that is a long time in meteorological terms. So what we have to do is assume the worst, prepare for that, and hope for the best.
“Irene’s exact course, strength and time of arrival remain difficult to be predicted with precision because this is a very large and also very slow moving hurricane. However, as has widely been reported, the hurricane cone – that is the area that might be impacted by Irene – has shifted west over the course of the day. That means that instead of going across the eastern portion of Long Island it now appears that it will reach our area closer to eastern Queens.
“We don’t know yet whether that will happen, but obviously we have to be prepared. That’s why today we announced that we activated the Command Center at the City’s Office of Emergency Management and put significant elements of our Coastal Storm Plan into effect.
“Now we are taking some additional steps. And before I tell you about these, let me just stress whenever the City has faced a difficult, tough situation, New Yorkers have always shown courage, compassion, presence of mind, and have been innovative in dealing with whatever is thrown at them. And I have confidence that they will do that again.
“Our published Coastal Storm Plan – available at nyc.gov – systematically addresses what to do to prepare for a major storm, and what to do when we’re hit by one, and what to do to recover from a storm once it has passed. Right now, we are still largely in the preparation stage, although we’re also taking some concrete steps tonight consistent with our Coastal Storm Plan that is comprehensive and that we have drilled with and practiced with all participating agencies over the years.
“Our first obligation I want to talk about is to protect the most vulnerable New Yorkers – hospital patients; those in nursing homes and homes for aged; and also New Yorkers who because of age or infirmity are homebound.
“Earlier today, I mentioned the low-lying areas of our city that are most at risk for flooding and other damage from a hurricane and have been designated as Zone A low-lying areas in our Coastal Storm Plan. These Zone A low-lying areas include Coney Island and Manhattan Beach in Brooklyn, Far Rockaway and Broad Channel in Queens, South Beach, Midland Beach, and other low-lying areas on Staten Island, and Battery Park City in Manhattan.
“Included in these Zone A low-lying areas there are five hospitals. These hospitals are now in the process of reducing their patient caseload in order to be ready for any increased emergency care that might arise. They are, for example, cancelling and re-scheduling elective surgeries.
“In addition, tonight Coney Island Hospital will, under the direction of State health authorities, begin placing patients in vacant beds in other hospitals in other parts of the city.
“We’re also notifying the other hospitals in these Zone A low-lying areas, as well as nursing homes and senior centers in these low-lying Zone A areas that they must – I repeat the word must – evacuate beginning tomorrow and complete the process by 8:00 PM tomorrow night, unless they get permission to stay in place based on the ability of the particular facility to keep operating during hurricane conditions. If any of these facilities need help moving patients, we’ll be able to provide it.
“That decision – not to evacuate – should they want to make it, will have to be made in conjunction with City Health Commissioner Tom Farley and his staff, and in consultation with the State Department of Health. As many of you know, Dr. Farley is a veteran of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans where he headed community health services at Tulane University, and Dr. Farley will draw on a wealth of experience that he has in making those decisions.
“So let me just repeat that one more time – seniors homes and nursing homes and these hospitals must evacuate unless in conjunction with Tom Farley and the State Health Commissioner determine that – because of the particular facility’s location, their ability for backup power, access to them – that it is permissible for them to not evacuate.
“We expect the weather, incidentally, on Friday, tomorrow, to be very good, and that is certainly going to help everybody in carrying out this process in a safe and orderly fashion. Let me repeat, what we’re trying to do is to take precautions for the most vulnerable. And as we get closer to the actual arrival of the hurricane, for the general public we can decide what is appropriate.
“However, among the general public living at home there are homebound people living in all of these Zone A low-lying areas. If you have a homebound relative or acquaintance in these low-lying areas, I strongly urge you to take some steps now to move them to a safer location – in your own home, or in the home of another relative or friend. That will be the best course of action for all involved, and we’re confident that in most cases that is what people will do. New Yorkers are big-hearted people, and always come through when the chips are down. And anyone who intends to use Access-a-Ride to temporarily leave their homes until the storm passes would be well advised to do that tomorrow, Friday, because capacity to do it on Saturday is limited by the number of Access-A-Ride vehicles.
“If you want to go to a shelter, the shelters will be open by 4:00 PM tomorrow afternoon. The staffs will start opening them early in the morning and work all day to make sure that they are ready to take anybody that needs shelter tomorrow night from 4:00 PM on.
“As regards to the general public, we will make a decision about whether to order a mandatory evacuation of Zone A low-lying areas by 8:00 AM Saturday, the day after tomorrow. However, we recommend that people start going to alternative locations if they have them because of potential traffic jams and mass transit limitations on Saturday that Jay Walder is going to discuss in a couple of minutes. So if you live in one of these communities and have a relative or friend you can stay with in a safer, less vulnerable areas, you should think about arranging to stay there until the storm passes.
“Let me say something about outdoor activities planned in the city. This weekend, more than 300 outdoor activities – street fairs, block parties, and so forth – have been planned. These activities, unfortunately, will have to be curtailed throughout the entire city, not just in the Zone A areas as we want to make sure that streets are available for emergency vehicles and busses throughout the entire city that may be needed in evacuation plans. We are revoking – and I have just signed an Executive Order to do so – all permits for events to take place in the city on Sunday, and in low-lying Zone A areas on Saturday as well. If you are not in a Zone A low-lying area, you can have your activity continue on Saturday, but we have amended the permits that require you to stop serving the public by 2:00 PM so you can use the rest of the afternoon to clean up.
“The Mayor’s Office of Citywide Events is in the process of contacting every organization holding a permitted street fair, block party, or similar outdoor event this weekend about these changes, and you will obviously have some information out about the Dave Matthews concert that is supposed to take place both Friday, Saturday and Sunday, and a myriad other events.
“Because of the high winds that will accompany the storm, we are also urging all New Yorkers for their own safety to stay out of parks where the high winds will increase the danger of down trees and limbs. And incidentally, it’s a good idea to stay out of your own backyard if you have trees there.
“Before taking questions, let me once again stress some other precautions that City people should take. First, find out if you live in one of the Zone A areas, the low-lying areas that we’ve talking about. You can do this simply by going on the City’s website, nyc.gov and typing in your address, or by calling 311 and giving your address to the call-taker and they’ll tell you right away whether you are in one of these areas.
“And second, New Yorkers should prepare themselves by stocking up on some basic supplies and making what’s called a ‘Go Bag,’ a bag that you could take with you at a moment’s notice if you have to leave home, and it should include things like drinking water, a first-aid kit, a flashlight, any important medications that you take, essential documents, such as passports or other forms of ID, and an extra set of car keys and house keys.
“I should point out that Janet Napolitano from Homeland Security called to offer any assistance that she could. Elizabeth Glazer from the Governor’s Cabinet, who has been involved in all of the meetings – and we’ve been working well with the Governor’s Office keeping them posted on what we’re doing here – and we will continue that process to reach out to elected officials and other government entities, both in the city and the surrounding areas, as well as at the State level.”
Stu Loeser/Marc La Vorgna (212) 788-2958
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