New Yorkers are preparing for Hurricane Irene, which threatens to become one of the biggest storms to hit the metropolitan area in decades. If Irene makes landfall in the New York area at hurricane strength, the powerful storm would be one of about five hurricanes to come within 75 miles of the city, according to records dating back 160 years.
A state of emergency was declared in New York Thursday, as officials began to prepare for what is shaping up as a serious and extreme threat.
Hurricane Irene continues to churn toward the East Coast of the U.S., with New York in its cross hairs, prompting evacuation contingencies in low-lying areas in Brooklyn, Queens, Staten Island, and Lower Manhattan.
Currently a Category 3 hurricane, Irene has left devastation in some of the small, sparsely populated southeastern islands of The Bahamas where there are reports of blocked roads, power outages and structural damages. It battered The Bahamas on Thursday with winds of about 113 mph.
The National Weather Service has said based on record dating to 1851, only five hurricanes have managed to track within 75 miles of New York City. The most recent of them is Gloria, which happened in 1985.
Officials who run the city that never sleeps are not allowing New Yorkers to brush aside the imminent threats of Mother Nature.
New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo on Wednesday ordered the state's Office of Emergency Management to prepare for the potential impact of Hurricane Irene. Irene is expected to hit the State on Sunday.
Cuomo has instructed the state's Emergency Operations Center in Albany to track the storm and to work with other state agencies in preparing the states response.
The governor will direct the agencies and local governments around the state to plan coordinated response efforts, such as emergency operations support and field staff deployments to areas that are expected to be hit the hardest.
The different agencies are ensuring they keep in close contact with the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the National Weather Service to discuss the potential path of the storm and determine planning efforts.
We are actively working to ensure that New York State is prepared for the potential impact of Hurricane Irene, Cuomo said in a statement. I encourage New Yorkers to pay close attention to the track of the hurricane and, if necessary, to follow the instructions of emergency officials. By properly preparing in advance, we can most calmly and decisively take action if the storm arrives.
It is uncertain what strength Irene will be when it reaches the East Coast. However, weather officials have said the category 3 storm has the potential top grown at least one more level to a category 4 hurricane. Irene's strength will depend on the course it takes to get to the U.S.
Parts of the state, such as Long Island and New York City, which are adjacent to coastal waters, are considered most at risk. Locations inland are susceptible to heavy rainfall and strong winds, which can cause flooding and power outages, the governor's office stated.
New Yorkers have already begun heeding the advice of Cuomo and stocking up on emergency supplies such as water, non-perishable food, radios, batteries, and first aid kits to name a few.
Cuomo has also asked New Yorkers to check in with neighbors, especially the elderly or disabled, who might need help during this time.
The International Business Times learned that supermarkets in downtown Manhattan were generally quiet Thursday afternoon, but over on Long Island things were different.
We have the store packed with people bracing for the storm, said Daniel Alario, the manager of Waldbaum's in Rockville Center.
Alario declined to answer additional questions and cited an urgency to deal with the crowd.
Fred Furbito, who manages Walbaum's in East Meadow, said store traffic was higher than normally on Thursday afternoon, but not overwhelming. He expects that the number of people to walk through the store's doors will increase in the evening when work in done.
Furbito said there will be all hands on deck on Friday.
New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg on Thursday updated residents on the city's preparation progress outside of St. Luke's Baptist Church in Laurelton, Queens. Bloomberg also visited a Department of Environmental Protection crew working on preemptive flood mitigation.
He said the Department of Environmental Protection and its crews are working hard to clean out catch basins to help mitigate flooding from Irene.
There are 143,000 catch basins in this city, but not all of them are checked everyday, Bloomberg said. Instead, checks are scheduled once every three years.
But we do inspect certain ones much more frequently because they have a much greater impact on the system, Bloomberg said, adding that the city is a little bit ahead of where it wants to be. At least we hope we are. But we're doing everything we can.
Bloomberg said since 2002, nearly $2 billion have been invested in citywide sewer system upgrades to include $242 million specifically in Southeast Queens, which has reduce flooding in what is the most flood-prone area in our city.
The City has already seen the power of Mother Nature once this week, and Mother Nature may not be done with us yet, he said, referring to the 5.8-magnitude earthquake that centered in Virginia. By the time Irene gets to us, which is forecasted to do sometime on Sunday, it certainly will still be a powerful storm - possibly as strong as a Category 2 hurricane on Long Island, but anything can happen in terms of its direction and its severity.
While it is uncertain at this time if Irene will make a direct hit on New York, the state is sure to feel some tropical storm-like conditions such as heavy rains and winds.
Bloomberg said if the worst scenario is going to happen this weekend, the city will activate other elements of its Coastal Storm Plan, including the possibility of evacuating of New Yorkers who live in low-lying areas that could be affected by such storm surges.
We don't yet have enough information yet to make that call, he said. There are still too many unknowns, but we will make a decision on whether to call for evacuating certain areas based on the track, the speed, and the strength of the storm as it moves from the Bahamas up the east coast.
In the meantime, the city has activated its Command Center at the Office of Emergency Management. And Bloomberg said he will stay in touch with MTA to coordinate any needed resources with State officials and agencies.
The fire and police department are also working to ensure they have enough personnel for any contingency.
The Police Department is positioning, for example, 50 small boats at station houses in low-lying areas, Bloomberg said. The NYPD Special Operations Division also has several helicopters and 33 police boats at the ready.
He added that the city's public hospitals have tested their emergency generators and have topped them all off with fuel, and made sure they have adequate medical supplies and food on hand, in case the weather disrupts deliveries.
As for the Parks Department, it is prepared to schedule forestry crews, inspectors, and contractors to be available on Sunday and Monday to handle emergency tree conditions.
To protect homeless New Yorkers from the elements, we will, you should know, double our street outreach operation and simplify the intake process at shelters, Bloomberg said. Clients will be able to enter any Homeless Services facility, including shelters and Safe Havens, without going through the usual steps of an intake center. And to be sure homebound seniors get their meals, our Department for the Aging is making sure that meal providers deliver an extra meal tomorrow, Friday, and bring the Sunday meals on Saturday before the worst of the storm hits.