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BY ALINE REYNOLDS | Thousands of residents in Lower Manhattan have been ordered to evacuate their apartments in anticipation of a massive storm that will pass through the city in the next 48 hours.
Emergency preparations the city is taking this weekend in anticipation of Hurricane Sandy brought chilling reminders of Tropical Storm Irene’s arrival in August 2011. Shortly before noon on Sunday, Mayor Michael Bloomberg declared a mandatory evacuation of low-lying coastal areas in the tri-state area, including Battery Park City and parts of Tribeca, the Financial District and the Lower East Side.
Additionally, Con Edison is considering preemptively shutting down electricity in Downtown and other low-lying areas in order to minimize the damage caused by salt water exposure, according to Community Board 1.
Meteorologists are expecting dangerously high winds, heavy rainfall and storm surges ranging from six to 11 feet, according to Bloomberg, who convened a press conference Sunday morning to brief the public on the city’s emergency preparation measures. As a result, a total of 375,000 New Yorkers are required to leave their homes by the late afternoon.
“We anticipate that the surge will hit a lot of low-lying areas, and that the possibility of flooding will continue into Tuesday afternoon,” said the mayor. “If you do live in Zone A, your first option should be to seek shelter in the homes of family or friends in the city outside of Zone A during the storm, and you have all day to do that.”
Bloomberg has also advised that everyone stock up on supplies and steer clear of elevators and the outdoors Sunday night and Monday.
“Let me repeat…This is a serious and dangerous storm,” Bloomberg continued. “For those in Zone A, evacuation is mandatory. In or out of Zone A during the storm, however, the safest place to be is indoors.”
Jean Grillo, who heads the Tribeca Community Emergency Response Team (CERT), has given the city Office of Emergency Management a list of the names of local volunteers and their availability over the next few days. The C.E.R.T., she said, is soliciting help from people who have made themselves available.
“Two members have agreed to be situated at Independence Plaza North to see if people need help with the evacuation,” she said at around 3 p.m. on Sunday. “I’ve made a number available to the community to call if they need help evacuating or need more food.”
Grillo and her team are also asking local residents to monitor the elderly. “The most important thing is that people stay safe and stay up to date and make sure their medicines are up to date, and to make sure they have plenty of food and water,” she said.
Grillo then said she had to go to prepare for the storm herself. “I’m on my way home right now — I need more supplies in case of power outages,” she said.
The Downtown Alliance Business Improvement District will be rerouting two of its Downtown Connection shuttle buses to help Battery Park City residents evacuate to Seward Park High School (350 Grand St.), Downtown’s only authorized evacuation center, and to other nearby shelters, of which there are more than 70 citywide. The next closest centers to Lower Manhattan are Baruch College, at Lexington Avenue and 25th Street, and the NYC College of Technology at 300 Jay St. in Brooklyn.
The buses will be stationed on North End Avenue and Murray Street in northern B.P.C. and on West Thames Street and South End Avenue in southern B.P.C.
“They will be there until about 3ish, so the drivers can then get the buses back to Red Hook and then get on subways and buses home,” said Jeff Simmons, a spokesperson for the Alliance. But Joe Timpone, the BID’s head of operations, said the buses could be active until 5 p.m. or even later until the weather prevents them from transporting passengers.
“There weren’t many people taking the buses a half hour ago,” Timpone said in the early afternoon on Sunday. “We’ll have to see as the day goes on if more people will come.”
Timpone echoed the urgent message Bloomberg made to Zone A residents to evacuate their homes. “If people don’t leave before seven o’clock tonight, they’re pretty much going to be on their own,” he said. “The city has said they don’t want to put first responders at risk.”
The Alliance is turning over all of its garbage cans in Downtown in hopes of minimizing damage and is advising businesses to bring in any outdoor signs that could blow away. Businesses in the South Street Seaport and elsewhere have also sandbagged their stores and taped their windows.
“We’ve been notifying construction companies to move their stuff off the streets, scaffolding, anything that’s hanging,” said Timpone. “Also, we notified owners of empty lots to make sure the fences are in place and won’t blow away.”
Downtown Connection bus service will be suspended on Monday, but the BID will be running a few vans 24 hours a day for emergency purposes. Subway, bus, and railroad service will be suspended as of 7 p.m. Sunday evening, including the Long Island Railroad and the Metro-North Railroad, and city buses will stop Sunday at 9 p.m. The PATH train will shut down at midnight. The city is also closing all parks and playgrounds starting at 5 p.m. Sunday, and all public schools will be closed on Monday. Senior centers, meanwhile, will close early on Monday and all of Tuesday.
For more information, including updates on the storm and advised safety measures, follow the Alliance’s Twitter page (@DowntownNYC), the city’s official website (www.nyc.gov) or the direct page of O.E.M. (http://www.nyc.gov/html/oem/html/home/home.shtml). For information about ferry service, visit New York Waterway’s website: http://www.nywaterway.com/AdvisoryDetails.aspx?aid=267. Otherwise, call 3-1-1.
–with reporting by Kaitlyn Meade