By Ronda Kaysen
New York City unveiled the most comprehensive hurricane evacuation plan in the United States this week, creating a framework to evacuate 2.5 million people from flood-risk neighborhoods in the city, including Lower Manhattan.
Were planning for the worst case scenario, said Office of Emergency Management Commissioner Joseph Bruno in an interview at his Brooklyn office on Tuesday. The worst-case scenario, according to Bruno, is a Category 4 hurricane that makes landfall in Atlantic City at high tide and heads toward New York City.
No hurricane of that magnitude has ever hit New York City before and Bruno doesnt expect one will, but with Hurricane Katrina as the new benchmark for what could happen, the city ramped up its evacuation plans. Do we expect a hurricane of that size? No. Could it happen? Yes, he said.
New York City has also never had a Category 3 hurricane although a few have hit Long Island.
In March, AccuWeather.com Hurricane Center, a nonprofit weather firm, predicted that the Northeast was due for a major hurricane within the next few years. The Northeast is staring down the barrel of a gun, said AccuWeather.com chief forecaster Joe Bastardi in a statement. The likelihood of a major hurricane making landfall in the Northeast is not a question of if but when.
Although New York City is above sea level, many of the coastal areasincluding much of Lower Manhattanare in flood zones and would need to be evacuated if a major hurricane hit. If you had a major storm, you could really do some damage in Lower Manhattan, said Bruno.
Bruno said he was aware of scientific studies predicting Lower Manhattan would be flooded more frequently because of warmer climates and the new plan could handle the impact from changing storm patterns.
O.E.M. command room in Brooklyn
If a Category 3 hurricane hit, Battery Park City, Tribeca, the Financial District, Battery Park, the Seaport, Greenwich Village, parts of Chelsea and the Lower East Side would all have the be evacuated. Any hurricane would require all of B.P.C. and most Lower Manhattan streets within a few blocks of a river to be evacuated.
The 2006 plan includes evacuating 100 percent of people eligible to be evacuated, compared to last years plan to evacuate 60 percent. Where the city had prepared to set up 100 shelters in dry areas, it now plans for 500, with the capacity to shelter 600,000 people. The only evacuation center below 23rd St. is on the Lower East Side at Seward Park High School, in a sliver of higher ground.
Unlike New Orleans, which is below sea level. Most of New York City would be safe in a major hurricane. Midtown, the Upper East Side, the Upper West Side and parts of Harlem, for example, would not need to be evacuated and would be safe places for Downtowners to go. You dont have to bring them to Houston, you just have to bring them off of the [flood] zones, said Bruno.
Evacuating New Yorkers will be encouraged to stay with friends in drier neighborhoods or leave the city altogether until the storm passes. People without other options will likely stay at the city shelters. If we tell you to go, go, Bruno warned.
Bruno expects the citys public transportation system, which transports more than 7 million people a day, to carry New Yorkers to dryer ground, before a storm. The subways would likely be shut down during the storm. A major hurricane would mobilize the citys 300,000 municipal employeesthe entire population of New Orleans is 400,000 peopleto man the evacuation-centers and move people to safer areas.
A new plan is overdue, said Jean Grillo, co-director of the Tribeca Community Emergency Response Team. Were anxious to hear what the city is planning.
Aside from evacuating when a hurricane strikes, there are other things New Yorkers can do to prepare, like preparing a go bag with essentials and establishing a safe meeting place for family members long before a disaster. Anybody who feels the least bit worried about it, [a go bag] is the wise things to do, said Wendy Brawer, founding director of Green Map, an organization that produces environmental maps for cities. Green Maps latest New York City map illustrates the changing flood zones in the city. Preparedness is a solid action you can take, worrying is not.
Brawer, who lives one block from the Seward Park evacuation center on the Lower East Side, also suggests people stock up on three-days supply of food and if they own bicycles to keep extra inner tubes and pumps handy.
O.E.M. plans to issue new hurricane guides soon and its Web site, www.nyc.gov/oem, has an updated list of evacuation centers. During hurricane season, the Web site will also direct visitors to the closest evacuation center, giving detailed travel directions for how to get there.