Escape from New York as Irene bears down

New Yorkers living in low-lying areas should think about moving out on Friday before Hurricane Irene hits the city of 8.4-million people, Mayor Michael Bloomberg said on Thursday.

The mass transit system might have to be shut down on Saturday, making it difficult for residents to leave if they wait, Bloomberg said at a televised news conference.

Hurricane Irene, raging up from the Caribbean toward the US East Coast, is expected to hit New York on Sunday with winds of up to 153km/h.

Public transport in New York, home to Wall Street, Broadway theatres and thousands of businesses, might have to be shut untile Monday.

Bloomberg made it clear people in coastal areas such as Battery Park City on Manhattan’s southern tip, Coney Island and the Rockaways should not linger until he issues an evacuation order because that could endanger emergency workers.

Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly promised an increased police presence in evacuated neighbourhoods to deter looting.

Bloomberg said he would decide by noon on Saturday on whether to order about a quarter of a million coastal residents to evacuate. City shelters will open by 4pm on Friday, he said.

To keep traffic flowing, public permits for events such as fairs and block parties were revoked for Sunday. Permits in coastal “Zone A” areas were cancelled for Saturday.

Governor Andrew Cuomo declared a state of emergency on Thursday, which helps New York state tap aid from the federal government.

Subways may be halted
The Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which runs New York’s buses, subways and suburban commuter rail lines, could remain shut until sometime on Monday, Bloomberg said, advising employers to prepare.

New York’s mass transit system is the largest in the United States, serving eight million people a day.

The subways might have to be shut because surging sea water could damage equipment. Commuter railroads face flooding and strong winds that might knock down their power lines.

MTA chairperson Jay Walder said the mass transit system must shut if winds top 62km/h.

“It takes us a minimum of eight hours to shut the system down,” he said.

Some Long Island services were alerady being modified.

“The Hamptons special trains for tomorrow are cancelled,” Walder said.

The MTA also runs major city bridges and tunnels. Whether bridges must be closed will be decided on a case-by-case basis, Walder said.

Nursing homes, hospitals and senior citizens’ centres in the low-lying areas must evacuate — unless the city and state give them permission to stay — by Friday night.

“For those who are homebound and not as mobile as we would like [them] to be, we would strongly urge that they move tomorrow,” Bloomberg said. – Reuters

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