New York is facing an unprecedented hurricane shutdown as officials ordered hundreds of thousands of people to evacuate their homes and a full closure of the city’s public transport network.
The sensational news comes as storm experts and politicians today laid out an apocalyptic warning of what will happen to Manhattan if Hurricane Irene makes a direct hit on New York City.
Governor Andrew Cuomo said the entire subway, bus and MTA train network will be shut down from midday Saturday, ahead of the storm’s anticipated impact on Sunday.
Experts spelled out fears of grounded transport, floods in the city and smashed skyscraper windows – as President Barack Obama warned the U.S. is about to experience ‘a historic hurricane’.
President Obama has now declared an emergency for New York state, which means the state can receive federal aid to supplement state and local emergency and clean-up assistance.
Mayor Bloomberg warned New Yorkers there will be an unprecedented mandatory evacuation of ‘Zone A’ coastal areas and rest of the Rockaways in ‘Zone B’ (scroll down for map) by 5pm Saturday.
‘We’ve never done a mandatory evacuation before in any part of this city,’ he said. ‘The sun is shining but don’t be misled – there’s a very dangerous storm headed in our direction.
Around 250,000 people will be evacuated from Zone A areas. The city will be able to shelter around 70,000 people and hopes the rest will stay with family and friends in safer areas.
‘We’re going to get hit with some wind and high water that is going to be very dangerous. It’s heading basically directly towards us.’
Almost 100 emergency facilities will be opened in the city this afternoon and bridges will be closed if there is danger of vehicles falling off them.
Mayor Bloomberg urged New Yorkers to stay indoors from Saturday 9pm to Sunday 9pm so they avoid potential injury from glass, trees or debris.
Transport services may not be restored in time for Monday morning, so many employees of businesses may enjoy a long weekend if they cannot get into work after the weekend.
‘This is very serious – you just can’t wait until gale force winds arrive, you have to start your preparations now,’ Mayor Bloomberg explained.
‘The danger is great – the likelihood of tragedies exists,’ he said, warning that if New Yorkers do not follow mandatory evacuation orders, ‘people might die’. ‘It’s a matter of life and death,’ he added.
Tens of thousands of Americans are fleeing the East Coast as a leading expert warned Hurricane Irene would cause a ‘nightmare scenario’ when it makes landfall further south tomorrow morning.
Around 65million people are in the path of the storm which has weakened slightly to a Category 2 with 110mph winds as it approaches the East Coast.
But experts warn re-strengthening is possible and the storm is expected to be near the threshold between a Category 2 and 3 storm when it finally reaches the U.S.
With New York, New Jersey, Virginia, Maryland, North Carolina and Delaware all declaring states of emergency the cost of the hurricane would be vast.
Many residents of New York and New Jersey are not used to storms like this striking their shores.
Popular Mechanics magazine has analysed what may happen, and claims 100mph counter-clockwise winds could dump 500 million tons of seawater directly into New York Harbor.
A storm surge could grow up to 15ft high and 2,900 miles of roads in the Brooklyn and Queens regions would be flooded, while the subway would flood in around 40 minutes.
Three tunnels linking Manhattan to New Jersey and New York’s boroughs would also flood, while a million people would lose electricity. A Category 3 storm would put JFK Airport under 19ft of water.
‘We’ve been very, very lucky because we haven’t had that (direct hit),’ Cynthia Rosenzweig, of the NASA Goddard Institute in New York, said. ‘But the potential vulnerability for that is very high.’
Workers would spend weeks pumping water out of transport tunnels and the salt could corrode power lines, transformers and switches on train lines, reported Popular Mechanics.
New York City officials are preparing for the total shut-down of the nation’s largest mass transit system on Saturday afternoon, with service potential not available again until Monday.
Officials say the system can’t be safely operated with sustained winds of 39mph or more and it will take at least eight hours to move all equipment from low-lying storage areas and secure trains.
President Barack Obama addressed the nation today, urging Americans to ‘take the storm seriously’ and warning it is set to be ‘a historic hurricane’.
‘You need to listen to your state and local officials,’ he said. ‘If you’re in the way of this hurricane you should be preparing now. If you’re instructed to evacuate please do so.’
He said disaster response agencies have millions of litres of water, millions of meals and tens of thousands of cots and blankets – and the Red Cross has begun preparing shelters in North Carolina.
‘The more you can do to be prepared now, the quicker we can focus our resources after the storm on those who need them the most,’ Mr Obama added.
Heightened waves of 6ft to 9ft have already started hitting North Carolina’s coast, which is first in line and home to some of America’s most heavily populated areas and priciest real estate.
‘One of my greatest nightmares was having a major hurricane go up the whole Northeast Coast,’ said Max Mayfield, ex-chief of the National Hurricane Center. ‘This is going to have an impact on the United States economy.’
Millions of energy customers are at risk of long-lasting power outages as strong winds and heavy rains threaten utility wires and poles.
The storm, with winds of 115mph, would be the strongest to strike the East Coast in seven years, and people are already getting out of the way.
Tens of thousands fled North Carolina beach towns, farmers pulled up their crops, and the Navy ordered ships to sea so they could endure the punishing wind and waves in open water.
There were reports last night of gas stations going dry and ATMs running out of cash as cars went bumper to bumper on highways in a slow-motion scramble to heed forecasters’ warnings.
With New York, New Jersey, Virginia, Maryland, North Carolina and Delaware all declaring states of emergency the cost of the hurricane would be vast.
The head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency said damages could exceed most previous storms because so many people live along the East Coast and property values are high.
‘We’ve got a lot more people that are potentially in the path of this storm,’ FEMA Director Craig Fugate said. ‘This is one of the largest populations that will be impacted by one storm at one time.’
The storm would ‘have a lot of impact well away from the coastline,’ he added. ‘A little bit of damage over big areas with large populations can add up fast.’
Utility officials and weather forecasters said last night that Hurricane Irene threatens to deliver long-lasting power outages to millions of customers along the East Coast.
An unusually large number of people may be affected by the storm because it is forecast to stay just offshore – and thus retain much of its power – as it inches up from North Carolina to New England.
High winds are the biggest threat to utility wires and poles. Flooding can cause problems for power plants, which are often located near rivers or other bodies of water.
‘It’s going to be really tough,’ said Karen Johnson, a spokesperson for PSE&G, which serves 2.2million customers in New Jersey. She recommended customers stock up on supplies of food and water before the storm hits.
‘You could conceivably have millions of people without power,’ said Matt Rogers, President of Commodity Weather Group, which forecasts weather effects on businesses.
The warnings came after Hurricane Irene claimed its first American casualties with eight people injured in South Florida.
Authorities said the rough ocean churned up by the outer swirls of the powerful storm caused a wave that knocked over eight people, nearly drowning one, while they walked on a jetty off Boynton Beach Inlet.
Palm Beach County officials say one person was taken to a hospital, while seven others were treated at the scene.
The incident came as New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg yesterday issued a stark warning to residents of the city over Irene.
As the storm devastated the Bahamas, caused panic in North Carolina and threatened to continue its path of destruction right through to America’s most populous city, Mayor Bloomberg urged hundreds of thousands of residents in low-lying areas to line up a place to stay on high ground ahead of a possible evacuation this weekend.
Mayor Bloomberg said yesterday that he expected to make a decision by late today on whether residents in the city’s so-called ‘Zone-A’ would need to evacuate ahead of the storm that’s now expected to hit the city on Sunday.
That zone includes neighbourhoods along the coast, including Battery Park City in Manhattan, Coney Island in Brooklyn and Far Rockaway in Queens.
He added that he has the power to issue an executive order to force people to move, which he insisted would only be implemented in the ‘worst circumstances’.
Such an order would affect 270,000 people, he said.
The Mayor also advised the public to prepare ‘go-bags’ – containing water, medication, non-perishable foods and valuables – in case they have to evacuate.
Mayor Bloomberg’s comments came a few hours before New York Governor Andrew Cuomo declared a state of emergency.
‘In this emergency I am activating all levels of state government to prepare for any situation that may be caused by Hurricane Irene,’ he said.
‘We are communicating with our federal and local partners to track the storm and to plan a coordinated response, and we will deploy resources as needed to the areas expected to be hit the hardest.’
He added: ‘I urge New Yorkers to personally prepare for hurricane conditions and to cooperate with emergency officials if needed. By working together, we will all be able to face this storm in a calm and organised manner.’
New Jersey Governor Chris Christie also signed a state of emergency in advance of the hurricane.
At a news conference this afternoon he urged people to leave the New Jersey Shore for fear of ‘some significant problems’.
The declaration clears the way for the state to deploy resources, such as the National Guard, to counties and municipalities as they prepare for the storm.
Christie said the current track calls for New Jersey to face a ‘serious, significant event.’
The governor is considering mandatory evacuations. In the meantime, he asked people not to go to the Jersey shore this weekend and for those with rental properties to leave Thursday or Friday.
‘Do not try to ride it out. It is not the smart thing to do,’ he added.
As residents across the East Coast have been evacuated for their safety, meteorologists suggested the hurricane could develop in one of two ways.
With the possibility of it moving out to the Atlantic fading CBS News Hurricane Consultant David Bernard said either it will hit Long Island and New England as a strong Category Two storm, causing huge power disruption and wind damage – or the storm will smash New York City full on, causing unprecedented damage and bringing with it utter panic to the city.
The economic repercussions of the hurricane hitting New York with heavy rain and more than 100mph winds would be catastrophic considering how densely populated the city is and the fact that it is not used to dealing with major storms.
In New York, which is the most heavily populated U.S. city, with 8.2 million residents, officials are so concerned they have opened an emergency operations centre in Brooklyn.
It is considered a ‘strong possibility’ that the storm ‘could impact New York City or Long Island directly,’ according to the National Weather Service
The last hurricane to strike the U.S. was Ike in 2008. The Category Two storm petered out, however, veering offshore by Galveston, Texas.
Wilma, in 2005, was the most recent major hurricane to hit America, bringing with it winds of 111mph.
Hurricane Irene, which is currently battering the Bahamas, wrecking beaches and causing panic among American tourists, is expected to gain strength as it leaves the island.
The National Hurricane Centre warned the powerful Category Three hurricane will ramp up quickly over the next day, blowing into a monstrous Category 4 with winds of at least 131 mph as it races across open waters.
It is storm is expected to clip North Carolina’s jutting Outer Banks region on Saturday and after that, forecasters see it hugging the U.S. eastern seaboard, swirling rains and winds across several hundred miles as it churns northward toward New England.
‘Irene is a massive hurricane and that’s what’s so bad for the Bahamas,’ Dave Samuel, a meteorologist at AccuWeather Inc., said yesterday. ‘We’re just watching it decimating Crooked Island of the Bahamas. It is moving slow and it is huge.’
Despite the warnings, Mayor Bloomberg spoke today to reassure New York residents that the city was capable of dealing with the storm.
He said contingency plans should be made by residents in low lying areas but insisted the city’s ‘big buildings are built to withstand strong winds’.
He added that the city has crews working to clean out catch basins to help with street drainage. It has also moved police boats to station houses in low-lying areas, hired emergency forest contractors and topped off emergency generators with fuel in preparation for the worst.
Mayor Bloomberg met with city officials yesterday to prepare emergency plans. The storm is expected to hit New York late on Sunday night, flooding streets, downing power lines and causing debris to fly across the city, thrown by fierce winds.
After an earthquake earlier this week, Mayor Bloomberg said: ‘Things happen in the city. Quite honestly, I am more concerned about our preparations for a hurricane that’s approaching.
‘Everyone should keep an eye on the storm and pay attention to the office emergency management when they put out some advisories on what we should prepare for as we get closer to the potential storm.’
He added that the city is ‘hoping for the best, preparing for the worst.’
In North Carolina, Governor Bev Perdue warned residents to ‘prepare for the worst’ as the huge hurricane threatened to strike.
A mandatory evacuation order has already been issued for all non-residents in Dare County and Outer Banks beaches, affecting an estimated 150,000 holidaymakers.
But Mrs Perdue also warned residents to get out of the way of the massive hurricane, which was expected to increase in intensity as it approaches the U.S. mainland today.
Mrs Perdue said: ‘Get your evacuation kit ready. Get your medicines ready. Take your insurance documents, and have a plan to get out if you need to. Treat this seriously, but then pray real hard that North Carolina will be fine.’
‘The exact centre of the storm may become a big threat for New England and perhaps Long Island,’ U.S. National Hurricane Center director Bill Read said. ‘Be advised, it’s going to be a very large circulation as it moves north of the Carolinas.’
Evacuations began on a tiny barrier island off North Carolina’s coast as Hurricane Irene strengthened to a major Category 3 storm yesterday.
Residents are allowed to stay in their homes for now, but they have been strongly advised to make necessary preparations for a large storm.
Irene’s maximum sustained winds have already increased to near 115mph and it’s likely to be Category 4 by the time it hits mainland U.S.
The evacuation in North Carolina was a test of whether people in the crosshairs of the first major hurricane along the east coast in years would heed orders to get out of the way.
The first ferry to leave Ocracoke Island arrived at 5.30am yesterday in nearby Hatteras with around a dozen cars on board – but it won’t be easy to get thousands of people off as they can only leave by boat.
The 16-mile-long barrier island is home to about 800 year-round residents and a tourist population that swells into the thousands when vacationers rent rooms and cottages.
Newly-wed Jennifer Baharek, 23, of Torrington, Connecticut, got off the next ferry. She and her husband, Andrew, were married on Monday and planned to spend their honeymoon on the island.
‘We just got to spend one day on the beach and then we went to bed early to get up for the evacuation,’ she said.
Even if Irene does not make landfall, forecasters and emergency management officials said it would still have plenty of power to cause wind damage, flooding and storm surges along the coast.
Meteorologists measured winds with hurricane force, more than 73 mph, extending 60 miles from Irene’s eye.
Federal officials have warned Irene could cause flooding, power outages or worse all along the east coast as far north as Maine, even if it stays offshore.
President Barack Obama is due to finish his east coast holiday at Martha’s Vineyard in Massachusetts this Saturday, but his advisers say there are no plans to change this return date.
However the White House is urging people living in the path of the hurricane to follow the advice of state and local officials, who are co-ordinating with the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
The projected path has gradually shifted to the east, though Irene is still expected to make landfall as a major hurricane in North Carolina over the weekend, before trudging northward.
People as far north as New England have been told to prepare for the storm. When asked about concerns preparing the northeast for a hurricane, Tuesday’s earthquake was cited.
‘It’s a reminder that we don’t always get to pick the next disaster,’ Craig Fugate, head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, told ABC’s Good Morning America.
In North Carolina, the state-run ferry service off Ocracoke Island would be free during the evacuation, but no reservations were allowed. Boats can carry no more than 50 vehicles at a time.
The island is part of North Carolina’s Outer Banks, a roughly 200-mile stretch of fragile barrier islands off the state’s coast.
Pristine beaches and wild mustangs attract thousands of tourists each year.
Aside from Ocracoke, the other islands are accessible by bridges to the mainland and ferries. The limited access can make the evacuation particularly tense.
All the barrier islands have the geographic weakness of jutting out into the Atlantic like the side-view mirror of a car, a location that’s frequently been in the path of destructive storms over the decades.
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