FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
August 28, 2011
MAYOR BLOOMBERG UPDATES NEW YORKERS ON CITY RESPONSE TO HURRICANE IRENE
As City Surveys Damage in Hardest Hit Zones, Evacuation Order is Lifted as of 3PM Today
The following are Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg's remarks as delivered this afternoon at One Police Plaza:
"I just wanted to report, I drove around the coastal areas in Manhattan and Brooklyn to survey the storm damage this morning. I visited a shelter at FDR High School in Brooklyn where I really was struck by the satisfaction on the volunteers' faces because they knew that they were making a difference. The clients who they served couldn't have been more appreciative.
"Here we are today at the NYPD's new Joint Operation Center in Lower Manhattan. It is a new, state-of-the art operations center that we built with City and Federal Funds, and I did want to say thank you for the support we received from Senator Chuck Schumer, former Senator Hillary Clinton, Senator Gillibrand, Congressman Peter King, and the rest of the delegation. It really does make a difference. The Joint Operation Center was activated to coordinate NYPD operations in preparation for, and during, Hurricane Irene.
"This morning, as you know, Hurricane Irene hit New York City. The good news is the worst is over, and we will soon move to restore and return mode. The tides were heading towards low tide, and as you all know the backside of a low pressure area comes up the east coast where winds will force the waters away from the coast, so the dangers of additional flooding have been eliminated, and the existing flooding should start to go down.
"We do not yet know the full extent of the damaged caused by the Category 1 storm, but so far, as I said earlier, there is no confirmation of deaths or injuries from the storm. We are really very grateful for that. We are seeing some very serious consequences of the storm, including flooding, downed trees, and power outages.
"As we anticipated, the storm surge has caused serious flooding across the five boroughs, including here in Lower Manhattan, where the East and Hudson Rivers are flowing over their banks and into the parks and low-lying streets at the water's edge. We did have substantial erosion at the Staten Island beaches and in the Rockaways, where the waves breached 94th Street between 127th and 132nd Streets.
"On the West Side of Manhattan, water was flowing over the docks when I was by earlier at the Boat Basin in Riverside Park. I'm told the Bronx, Orchard Beach is under water, as is Mill Pond Park and the riverfront lots at Yankee Stadium. The Bronx River is moving very fast, and people should stay away from flooded areas and river in particular. If you were to fall into the Bronx River, it's really hard to see how emergency personnel could get to you in time. In Brooklyn, the eastbound Belt Parkway still is flooded as of last report due to the collapse of a retaining wall.
"Yesterday we warned residents that their power may go out, or be cut preemptively to avoid damage to the power grid caused by flooding. Thankfully Con Ed did not have to do that, and where they had to cut steam service to some buildings, they think it will be restored by Tuesday. Last reports, there was something like 62,000 households whose power has been knocked out by the storm, including 28,000 households in Queens, and over 19,000 households in Staten Island. Con Ed is on the job. They have all their crews out there. Kevin, thank you for all of Con Ed's service. And Kevin's estimate was probably by Tuesday, day after tomorrow, to get everybody back. Although overhead lines are easy to see when they're down, it's easy for the crews to get to them and work. And big chunks of that 62,000 should be back much earlier.
"The City's hospitals all have contingency plans in place for possible power loss, including redundancy for emergency generators at Bellevue and Coler-Goldwater, that are the most vulnerable to flooding. Thankfully they didn't have to use those, but if the next storm were to come through they're ready.
"In terms of tree damage, the storm has uprooted something like 650 trees throughout the five boroughs. I've always been fascinated about how we get the number exactly of trees, but it's a number like that. The Parks Department, however, does have - and this we can count - more than 100 forestry crews working today to remove downed trees and limbs. The good news is nobody so far has been hurt. But I did drive down Ocean Parkway this morning, and there were no trees down in one segment. When we came back an hour later, there was an enormous tree that had come down on the other side. People standing around it, had come down over some cars. No injuries, but let me just remind you when the ground is very wet, the older trees absorb a lot of moisture, they get heavier, and without wind without a lot of notice they can all of a sudden fall. So, nature is dangerous. Pay attention.
"All in all, we are in pretty good shape because of the exhaustive steps I think we took to prepare for whatever came our way. The very best City employees and first responders are going to work nonstop make sure that through the storm's aftermath we are safe.
"In fact, this morning, the FDNY used three rescue boats to save 61 adults and three babies in the Bullhead area of Staten Island after the lake in Willowbrook park overflowed. Sal, thank you for all your men to get out there. These people were trapped in five feet of water - and faced a very scary situation. 50 FDNY firefighters answered the call, as they always do, within two minutes, and they rescued every single one of the people trapped there with no injuries reported.
"Of course, what's on everybody's mind is when can you return to your homes in the evacuated low lying areas? I understand that people are very anxious to get back home, but safety is still our first priority, so we are taking some basic safety measures so that can happen as soon as possible. The FDNY is currently up in the air with a senior engineer from the Buildings Department just looking, an aerial survey, to see if there are buildings where the water had gotten on all four sides, and there might be a danger of foundations being undermined. They're looking for downed wires and hazards like that, and other surge damage. We think that people can start to go back. Certainly by 3 o'clock we will officially life the evacuation.
"The shelters operated safely last night. All told, the 81 emergency shelters we set up to provide a safe place for more than 9,000 evacuees to wait out the storm. We are now working to get buses from the Department of Education and the MTA to give those people the ability to get back. Let me just caution everyone, if you live in a high rise building - particularly a NYCHA building - there may have been water damage in the basement, the elevators may not be working, and they are long climbs if you live on a higher flood. So with that caveat, NYCHA buildings will be open and we will try to get people that needed buses to get out get bus rides back, but we do want to remind everybody that there's no guarantee those elevators are all working. On a case by case basis we are surveying, we don't know how big the damage is or serious the damage is, and how long it'd take to get the elevators back.
"Special care needs evacuees, the City and State Health Departments are working together to take the steps necessary to verify that their facilities are structurally safe and appropriately staffed and resourced. Once this process is complete, the City will be arranging transportation from the shelters to their homes. In the meantime, these evacuees will be maintained in shelters until they can be safely transported. A full assessment of all special medical need evacuees is currently being conducted to determine whether any of them might be more appropriately transferred to a hospital this evening, rather than stay in shelter for a second night. But the bottom line is, keep in mind it took us two days to move roughly 9,000 people out of senior homes and nursing homes and hospitals. We did it safely, and we're going to do it safely moving it back. But that just gives you a feel for the amount of time it's going to take to get everybody back to where they were last week.
"The NYCHA engineers are looking at everything. They do have to reactivate boilers and assess the building conditions and other things like that. But the progress that they're making gives us some comfort that most people will be able to get back in. Something about 6 o'clock we would suggest to go back for NYCHA housing. 3 o'clock we are officially lifting the evacuation order, but please give the engineers and custodians in the NYCHA buildings a little more time so that they can get back, and if they can get all the elevators back working that would be good. We don't want somebody to try to climb up a lot of stairs that just may have a medical problem.
"The Police Commissioner and his staff, and Bob LiMandri and his staff have checked out everything. We're still looking on the ground. Police cars to look for down wires and look for tree limbs, and block off those areas. You should just be careful when you go out there. There's still- we're not back to normal, we just think we can get back to our homes.
"In terms of transportation, I'm happy to say that all of the bridges are open to the Rockaways. Some of those had been closed. The main TBTA and Port Authority and City bridges did remain open because the winds never got to the point where they had to be closed. The tunnels all kept working. The Hudson Tunnel had one lane closed in the middle of the night, but it still was open. The Staten Island Ferry out of St. George begins at 3 o'clock today. Just remember, the State Island Railroad is not functioning so you can't take that to the ferry, nor is mass transit on the Manhattan side. So just like Chris Ward talked about point to point with the PATH tubes, the Staten Island Ferry is a point to point, and when you get to Manhattan or you get to St. George, then you've got to figure out how to get where you really want to go.
"I know that many properties throughout the city have sustained damage, including some City government buildings in Lower Manhattan that had some windows blown out or flooding. Whenever there is a major emergency, our Office of Emergency Management activates the 311 damage assessment tool. Their callers are surveyed about the extent of the damage to their property. 311 then compiles the data and uses it to deploy State OEM and FEMA workers, inspectors. FEMA then does a preliminary damage assessment job to see if we are eligible for federal reimbursement. FEMA has been here throughout this entire process, and I wanted to say thank you to them.
"We have enabled a damage report tool on the City's website, nyc.gov, so you can report property damage online. And once again, for updates throughout the storm and its aftermath, and now you can use it for this as well, you can always go to @nycmayorsoffice or @notifynyc on Twitter.
"I did want to thank all the volunteers helping fellow New Yorkers, particularly 2,500 City employees who helped staff our evacuation centers. I'm especially grateful to our Fire, Police, first responders, Correction Officers at Riker's Island, and other City employees who really gave it their all. And a big thanks to the taxi drivers, livery drivers, bus companies and others who answered our call and helped transport some of the most vulnerable neighbors to safety.
"As we've seen so many times before, this emergency is really about bringing out the best in New Yorkers. I'm happy to say overnight crime activity was below normal. Ray reports 45 arrests overnight compared to on average on a typical Saturday night in August 345. So 300 fewer arrests. If that doesn't tell you about New Yorkers, I don't know what does. People said, 'Oh, you were going to have a problem.' Quite the contrary. New Yorkers do come together.
"The plan for tomorrow: We understand that some people will have difficult times coming to work. City Government offices will be open with some disruptions I'm sure because people can't get there. The New York Stock Exchange and the other financial markets plan to open on time and have a normal day. I'm sure most businesses will - with some minor quick adjustments - get right back to keeping the economy going in the city and giving people the opportunity to share in what's great about New York. The tourists will be out there again, and all of us can look back and talk about where were you on the day of Irene?"
Stu Loeser/Marc La Vorgna
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