"Well, good afternoon, everyone. Pam Mitchell, thank you for joining us again today.
"This afternoon, I want to update everyone on the city's progress in recovering from Hurricane Sandy, and also describe some precautionary steps that City government is taking, and that New Yorkers should take, to prepare for the strong nor'easter that is forecast to hit our region on Wednesday.
"City workers in scores of agencies, and NYC Service volunteers with help from partner non-profit agencies, and together they have just done extraordinary work over the past 10 days to get us prepared for, and help recover from Sandy, and they're going to be a very key part of what we do going forward.
"Earlier this morning, I expressed my thanks to more than 100 City Sanitation workers in Edgemere, in the Rockaways. They've been working around the clock to clear that community of all the downed trees and other destruction that Sandy produced.
"Hurricane Sandy has taken a toll on them as well. Many of them have had their own houses flooded; some, along with their families, had to move in with relatives or friends.
"They're well aware that one of their fellow workers, Damien Moore, lost two small sons when they were swept away in the storm surge on Staten Island eight days ago.
"They know that another one of their co-workers, Michael Lewery, remains hospitalized from the shock he received from a downed wire while clearing storm debris on Staten Island on Sunday.
"Michael - whom I saw and spoke to in the hospital on Sunday - is in stable condition and, thankfully, is expected to recover.
"The work that our Sanitation Department does is difficult and even dangerous under the best of conditions - and these days Our Strongest are laboring under conditions that are far from the best.
"They've been working 12-hour shifts for more than a week. They focus on post-Sandy cleanup. To date, they've removed some 60,000 tons of storm debris.
"And today we announced that we will reduce garbage collections in areas largely unaffected by the storm to allow us to move even more resources to the neighborhoods that need it the most.
"If you live in one of these less affected areas, you may or may not have reduced collections; it's going to depend on circumstances like the Sanitation manpower in your area. There will also be no recycling collection anywhere in the city until further notice. But put out your garbage and we'll get to it. Just we're going to get to it less frequently probably than we have been doing for an awful long time.
"Heavily impacted areas will continue to receive garbage and debris removal around the clock since new piles of debris are put on the streets every single day. When somebody decides it's time to go and rip out all of the stuff in their basement that was flooded, you get this enormous pile that magically appears on the street, even if we've cleaned the street the day before. So we keep going back again and again - I think that process will go on for a while.
"We're going to get this cleanup from Hurricane Sandy done as fast as humanly possible - I don't think anybody could do it better than the best Sanitation Department in the world. They have a mission that they're proud to carry out - and we should all be proud and grateful to have such men and women serving us.
"I don't know that the class of Sanitation workers that I swore in about three weeks ago knew what they were getting into, but I know that they're feeling a great deal of pride in being able to make a big difference in this city.
"I also wanted to thank the General Contractors Association for helping us marshal private contractors, as well as the Army Corps of Engineers, and other Federal and State agencies. They're all working with Commissioner Doherty and the Sanitation Department so that we can carry out this cleanup operation as quickly as possible.
"After the Sanitation roll call this morning, I also visited Rockaway Park to see the damage there and stopped by to check in on some friends whose house was badly damaged and who still have no power or heat.
"It's a far cry from every St. Patrick's Day Parade in the Rockaways when I always stop by their house for some Irish coffee and corned beef. This time, the house is cold, they've lost everything in their basement, they have a tiny generator but they're spending most of their time helping their neighbors who aren't even that lucky.
"It is a tight-knit community where everybody knows each other and everybody helps each other. You just look at all of the sand and mud in the street and the piles of trash that keep getting put out, and you realize what a hard time they have. They described to me in intimate detail just how cold cold-showers are. But they were lucky enough to have running water to at least take a shower.
"And now as to the approaching nor'easter: The National Weather Service has put our city on a high wind watch and coastal flood watch beginning Wednesday morning through late Wednesday night.
"We can expect winds of 25 to 35 miles per hour and gusts rising to 45 to 55 miles an hour, with the highest winds occurring late Wednesday afternoon and Wednesday night.
"Keep in mind these are forecasts, and forecasts as we know change as you get closer to the event. Areas close to shore they think will experience some moderate coastal flooding, especially during the times of high tide, which is early tomorrow afternoon, about 1 o'clock, and then later at about midnight on Wednesday.
"The forecast calls for a storm surge of 2 to 4.5 feet - which is, you know, well below what Sandy produced, but still capable of producing flooding in low-lying areas. There's also likely to be about an inch of rainfall in the city on Wednesday and Thursday, perhaps mixing with sleet early Wednesday morning and again Wednesday night.
"So we could have some snow on the ground and certainly some snow on the trees - that makes trees who already have their base flooded more likely to fall over and that's something that we are really going to worry about.
"The storm surge also may be a little bit worse because with some wind this time you have some waves that exacerbate the surge, and a lot of these beaches have had their sand - which has acted as a barrier - eroded. So places that didn't before have a problem with 2.5 to 4.5 feet surge might very well this time.
"It's all going to make us have unusually cold weather as well. It feels cold. Wednesday morning temperatures will be in the mid-40s, but the wind chill will make them seem about 10 degrees cooler.
"Wednesday night temperatures will be in the mid-30s; wind chill will make that feel like the upper 20s. And while winds will diminish Thursday, the forecast calls for it still to be blustery.
"In light of this forecast, today I'm directing City agencies to take the following steps: Beginning today and continuing tomorrow, police officers will make announcements over patrol car loudspeakers in some areas flooded by Hurricane Sandy that are close to the shoreline and most vulnerable to further flooding.
"This is being done to make sure that people who are elderly, or homebound, or who have infants are safe, and encourage them to go someplace warm. Police officers will be able to direct people to shelters, and we're working on transportation arrangements for people who will need them.
"We're also closing all the City's parks, playgrounds, and beaches effective noon Wednesday to noon Thursday. This is for everybody's safety; high winds are likely to bring down more limbs or entire trees. And obviously, the waves are very dangerous and we just don't need to send our first responders into the ocean to save somebody who's being foolish. So stay off the beaches.
"City inspectors are ordering all property owners and contractors to secure their construction sites and buildings in advance of this storm. All exterior construction work is to cease at noon Wednesday.
"All New Yorkers should also take some precautions before and during this nor'easter, too. Driving in high winds can be hazardous, so avoid driving during the worst part of the storm Wednesday night from 5:00 PM on.
"Outdoor items that might be blown around by high winds should be secured or brought indoors. If, before, during, or after the storm you encounter any power lines that have been brought down, stay away, leave them alone. They are lethal.
"And because the high winds and driving rains accompanying this new storm will make the unusually cold weather we're now having feel even colder, let me repeat what I have said in recent days: If you are elderly, or have an infant under a year old, or have heart disease or other such medical conditions, make sure you are in a warm place.
"And if you find yourself shivering uncontrollably, or if you see someone who is, or who seems disoriented, these are symptoms of hypothermia, and hypothermia can be deadly. With those symptoms, people need to get into a warm place very quickly. Check your neighbors, especially those who are elderly, to see if they need help. It's really a great thing to just go over and knock on their door.
"Since Saturday, the City has been providing buses leaving from our disaster assistance service centers - there are a total of six of them on Staten Island, the Rockaways, on Coney Island, and in the Bronx - that can take you to a shelter where you can spend the night safe and warm.
"In Red Hook today, we've opened a new warming center that will be open 8:00 AM until midnight, and it is 110 West 9th Street. Tomorrow, however, because of the weather, the operations of the disaster service centers will be downsized, but their buses will still be there.
"Today, as they have since Saturday, volunteers are going to go door-to-door in areas that are still without electrical service urging residents who need help to go to one of those shelters. And again this evening, NYPD patrol officers will use loudspeakers to urge people to go where they can be warm and safe, and tell them how to get there.
"There are also more than 200 centers where people can go to stay warm during the day.
"If you remain in your homes, please, please, please do not use gas ranges or ovens to stay warm. I know it's cold, but this can lead to very serious fires and carbon monoxide poisoning. Better to be cold than to not survive. If you really are cold, depend on the shelter system. It may not be the thing you want to do, but it can save your life.
"If you lose electrical power or don't have it, be careful with candles. Don't leave them unattended, and don't leave them burning if you are asleep. We keep having fires from this, and it's going to kill somebody. And make sure that you have working flashlights and spare flashlight batteries on hand if your lights go out, assuming you haven't done that already, and assuming you have electricity.
"Con Ed and the Long Island Power Authority continue to make progress in restoring power to New Yorkers who were left without electric service by Hurricane Sandy. We're hopeful that the lights will come on for many more New Yorkers today, before the storm hits.
"As of 11:00 AM this morning, and that's about three hours ago, some 91,000 customers in our city were still without electric service; that's down from 115,000 customers about 11 o'clock yesterday.
"With some 30,000 to 40,000 out of these 90,000 customers - in other words, a third to 40 percent - the problems are with the buildings they're in, not with the utility company. So even if the power comes back on to the area where your building is, work will have to be done in these buildings before the lights go on.
"Many New Yorkers live in public housing areas hit hard by Sandy, and we have a similar problem with them. But let me once again repeat what happens. Just because the electricity is turned on the street and you see one of your neighbors with electricity, that does not mean that you're going to get electricity.
"We have to get somebody in to inspect the wiring if there was flooding in your basement or where the electric panel is, and a qualified electrician is going to have to do some work or replace equipment before the utility can turn on the power to your specific house or building.
"So what we're really saying is out of the 90,000, the utility companies are really only responsible for 50,000 or 60,000, and they're working as hard as they can to get that done. But they cannot turn on the power on the block until they go into every single building. If they can't get in, they cut the wires outside.
"Public housing hard hit by Sandy, as I said yesterday, we're hopeful to have the lights on, and heat and hot water restored, for the majority of these public buildings in the next few days. Installing a boiler is very tough if the boiler can't be repaired in place.
"We have 14 new generators that we brought on line, 28 buildings housing 5,000 people got their power back yesterday; 12 buildings and 1,000 more got their heat and hot water restored. We have more generators that are being delivered. The problem at this point is when we have a generator, you've got to get qualified people to install it and to hook it up. Same thing with the boilers and we're all working as hard as we can.
"As to 57 schools that had sustained structural damage, we are planning to relocate all students assigned to them to other buildings tomorrow. I'm happy to say that we've reduced that number from 57 to 47, and the other 10 will join the group of schools that open tomorrow and students will go to their regular schools.
"Students at the other 47 schools should go to the Department of Education's web page at nyc.gov to find out where they're being reassigned.
"Tomorrow the campus of John Jay High School in Brooklyn, out of an abundance of caution, will be closed because roughly a dozen people seeking shelter there came down with what we believe to be a stomach virus. None of them is severely ill. The school will be thoroughly cleaned and then reopened, but we're going to take security precautions as the most important thing here.
"In areas where electric power has not been restored, the National Guard, NYC Service volunteers, and the staff of the Salvation Army, will once again today be distributing prepared meals, bottled water, and other essential supplies.
"There will be 10 of these distribution sites today. They will be open from noon until 4. Tomorrow they're going to be open from 9 am to noon due to the weather. So remember, they're going to be open this afternoon, but tomorrow it'll be in the morning.
"Yesterday we also distributed more than 250,000 meals, 61,000 liters of water, 21,000 blankets, and 8,000 rain ponchos.
"Volunteers and members of the National Guard reached 2,000 people yesterday delivering meals, helping with cleanup, and checking up on those who might need extra help. That will go on today as well.
"Starting today local food trucks are also giving away free hot meals at 21 sites in the hardest-hit areas - a partnership arranged by the Mayor's Fund to Advance New York City. Call 311 to get their location. We have police there to control crowds, but we do expect that you'll be able to get the food that is really going to make a difference in your lives.
"Workers from the City Departments of Sanitation, Parks, and Transportation, NYC Service volunteers, and the US Marines are also partnering with the Salvation Army to collect the large amount of used clothing that's been left outdoors as donations in various parts of the city. They're also distributing cleaning supplies.
"They're making these pick-ups today to get these things off the streets before tomorrow's storm. Leaving clothing out on the streets is just going to get it ruined, it doesn't help anybody. All clothes collected will go to Salvation Army locations in our hardest-hit areas.
"You can do that, or if you would like to donate clothing, you can instead of leaving them outside deliver them to Salvation Army centers. They'll make sure your donations get where they're needed.
"You can also donate them to New York Cares, Goodwill, the New York Metropolitan Council on Jewish Poverty or Catholic Charities. If you'd like to make a donation of food, you can do so with City Harvest and Food Bank for New York City.
"What we've got to do is make sure that we get any donations inside so that they're not ruined, but also get them from where you're leaving them to where the needs are. Some places we have too much, some places we have too little, and it's a shame. We've got to balance this out better.
"Remember, cash donations, however, are the most useful because we can buy things that people need, and it's easy to get those supplies where they're needed. Go to the City's web site at nyc.gov, or call 311, to find out how to donate to Sandy relief through the Mayor's Fund to Advance New York City.
"Lastly, early this morning I voted - and I encourage all New Yorkers to cast their ballots. People all around the world would like to have our freedoms - and to keep them and extend them, we have to exercise them.
"I know many people - including myself - are encountering lines at the polls. Be patient - it's worth the wait to be part of the process. I will say, I talked to an awful lot of people who were just so enthusiastic that they had the chance to vote. That was the main topic of conversations.
"From the reports we have gotten, the Board of Elections has run into problems, including late delivery of machines to some sites, and late openings. Also this morning, we learned that the Board failed to secure enough fuel for generators at least one poll site.
"When we became aware of it, the Department of Education did deliver fuel to that polling site. In addition, the Governor's Office asked us to provide food to poll workers at temporary polling sites where there are no restaurants or delis nearby - and we are doing that.
"If these were the only problems the Board of Elections encountered today, we should consider ourselves very lucky - but unfortunately, based on its history, that is not likely to be the case."